“ You really just have to look at her Instagram,” my friend insisted. “It just explains so much.”
The ‘her’ my friend was referring to, was her cousin, Sarah, in a conversation between the two of us in which she had been trying to explain the individual personalities of her extended family. Unsurprisingly, I did in fact proceed to look at Sarah’s Instagram account, making all of the normal observations regarding her followers, her pictures and her average number of likes. What is somewhat abnormal, however, about the scenario I just described, is that Sarah is ten years old. At an age when I was climbing trees and playing tag, Sarah posts selfies and uses photo filters.
Though Sarah’s use of social media struck me as shocking and almost disturbing, according to an article posted by Daily Mail Online, more than 50% of children start using social media by the time they are ten years old. Facebook is the most popular site for children, and many use the social networking site whilst blatantly ignoring the website’s policy of requiring its users to be at least 13 years old. The article also discusses the feelings of the parents of these young online users, stating that though 67% of parents monitor their children’s social media accounts, only 32% “felt very confident about helping them stay safe online”.
These statistics beg the question of what effect social media is having on children, their social development, their relationship with their friends and family, as well as what type of role parents should play in their children’s’ online usage. The answers to these questions are not yet entirely clear, and as with most issues, there are both pros and cons.
A Huffington Post article titled “The Bad, the Ugly, and the Good, of Children’s Use of Social Media”, outlined a few of these pros and cons. According to the article, ‘The Bad’ includes children experiencing symptoms such as Facebook Depression, and ‘The Ugly’ includes serious Internet addiction. Despite these cons, ‘The Good’ supposedly includes helping shy or anxious children feel more connected, and even connecting families by allowing social media to be a method for parents to obtain greater access into their children’s lives.
Pros and cons aside, the age at which children should be allowed to start using social media is a delicate issue. An article in the Seattle Times discussed the opinions of both online safety and parenting experts, about if and when children should be allowed to start using social media. The article noted that while some experts advocate using age 13 -the general minimum age requirement for most sites- as a baseline age, others disagree, saying it should be based on the individual child’s level of maturity. There is some consensus amongst experts however, that parents should not try to completely block kids from using social media altogether, but rather they should strive for open communication and collaboration with their children concerning the issue.
I was one of the last of my peers to join the world of social media. Having finally received my parents’ permission, I set up my first account, which was a Facebook account, on the last day of middle school. Though my young teenage self did not appreciate my perceived late entrance into the social media world, in hindsight I am grateful I was kept out of it until I was, and am happy that my memories are of playing freeze tag, and not of using hashtags on Instagram.
Featured image courtesy of Flickr user zeitfaenger.at.