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What Age Should Children Be Allowed Social Media Accounts?

What Age Should Children Be Allowed Social Media Accounts?

The truth is that there is no right or wrong answer, Lucy Battersby argues that "It is the same question of when you allow a child to cross the street under their own guidance or when you allow them to go down to the park by themselves. It is potentially dangerous, it is not 100 per cent dangerous."1 While major Social Media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr and Snapchat have an age restriction of 13 years and it’s even older for Vine and YouTube, there are still thousands of younger children accessing these sites every day. According to Raisingchildren.net.au ‘Of Australian children aged 9-10 years, 29% have a profile on a social networking site, as do 59% of those aged 11-12 years and 92% of those aged 15-16 years.’ It is inevitable that young children will have an increasing interest in Social Media especially as their older siblings and peers start creating accounts. If your child is under 13 and wants to join a Social Media site, explain that they need to be over 13 to create an account and if they must have an online presence then there are safe alternatives in place for younger children, these sites include: Club Penguin, Webkinz and Whyville.

While many parents may want to keep their children from accessing these sites for as long as possible they also want to keep their child included and not feel left out among their friends. If your child is showing an interest in creating an account it is important to be open and honest with them, the world of Social Media can be a scary one and it is important that children are aware of the potential dangers. However, it also can also be a great place for your child to express themselves, create and increase personal connections with friends and family. Tena Davies explains that ‘overall, social networking sites are like an extension of face-to-face interactions. So the biggest benefit your child might get from using social networking sites is a sense of connection and belonging to family, friends and peers.’2

When you feel that your child is ready for a Social Media account there are things you can do to ensure they are kept safe online:

  • It’s a good idea to get to know the site your child is using, you may want to create your own account so that you are aware of how it works, the terms and conditions, privacy settings and who to contact to report any unwanted or uninvited attention.
  • The next thing is to make sure their account is private, this limits what anybody who is not ‘friends’ with the account holder can see on their profile.
  • Encourage your child to add you as a friend (this may be difficult) but if you you promise not to leave any embarrassing comments then they may accept your friend request. It’s a great way to make sure they are safe, they are not receiving any nasty or malicious comments and something fun that you can do together.
  • Encourage them to be honest and show you any pictures they want to post so that they can get your approval first, then ask them two questions: 1. Do they think they will still like this picture in 5 years’ time? This reinforces the point that what you post online can stay with you for a long time, it could even potentially damage any future reputation. 2. Would anybody else be hurt or offended by the picture? While it is important to make sure that your child is not being bullied it is also important to make sure that your child is not being hurtful or unkind to anybody else online.
  • Make your child aware of the importance of only speaking to people that they know. They should never accept any friend requests from strangers and if they are receiving these requests or even messages you should be informed so that you can go through them and block these people together and report anybody if you feel it necessary. Also make sure that they have not divulged any personal information like their phone number or address anywhere on their profile.
  • Negotiate how much time they can spend on Social Media, anybody with a Facebook account knows that you can spend hours searching through your friends accounts, limit this time to after they have finished their homework or once their chores are completed.

When used appropriately Social Media can be a great platform for creativity, a sense of well-being and belonging but there is also a high potential for unsafe behaviour if not used and monitored correctly. It has been argued that age is arbitrary when it comes to Social Media, parents and carers must assess their own child to see when they have the social skills to remain safe on these sites. For an in-depth guide at how to keep your children safe on Facebook you can download the Parents Guide to Facebook here.

Written by Gina Flashman, OSHC Administrator

References
1. Battersby, Lucy. What Age is Appropriate to Join Social Media? 17/10/2015 http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/what-age-is-appropriate-to-join-social-media-20151015-gk9nat.html
2. Davies, Tena. Pyschologist. Social Networking, 12/06/2015 http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/social_networking.html


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