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“ 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”.

Image courtesy of Flickr user James Emery.

Image courtesy of Flickr user James Emery.

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.

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One thought on “Have Kids Switched From Freeze Tag to Hashtags?

  1. Perhaps my view is too traditional, but I have a huge problem with the use of social media by really young people. I think the title of this post sums up my fears pretty completely: with so much access to the digital world, kids won’t feel the need to do traditional “kid” things. I look at my younger cousins and I see how different their childhood has been from mine. My aunt has to have mandated, scheduled outside time in between their playing on iPads and iPhones. When I was growing up, everyday after school I went to my neighbors’ houses and played outside. Only when it rained were we driven indoors, and when that occurred, we usually played board games. My cousins don’t have this experience. They’d prefer to stay inside, playing games on their devices. Instead of going outside, my eleven year old cousin has to worry about what she might be missing online. She, along with all of her friends has an Instagram account and though she doesn’t have one, some of her friends have Facebook profiles.

    When I visit home during the holidays, she always asks to see my phone – to scroll through my Instagram pictures, send Snapchats, etc. And each time, I am shocked. Shouldn’t she be worried about other things? I didn’t have social media until early high school, and I certainly can’t imagine having it at her age. I have said this before, but having social media during the tumultuous time that is middle school sounds like the worst thing one could do for his or her self esteem. Navigating middle school and puberty was difficult without the constant reminder of the cool things people are doing, what new and expensive things people have bought, and what your “friends” are doing without you.

    More shocking to me though is my youngest cousin, who at the age of three could use an iPad better than my Grandfather and now, at six can use modern technology as well as I can. She knows what Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat are. She of course doesn’t have accounts on these sites yet, but she’s exposed to them constantly. Does that mean that she’ll be getting an account even earlier than her older sister? Given the content that is sometimes posted on these sites, I find that thought troubling. It is far too easy to get past the age restrictions on these sites and as long as they have access to the web, there is nothing stopping kids who are too young from logging on.

    I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t love social media. I use social media quite regularly and believe that it has enhanced my ability to stay connected, get news, and see new things. However, I think that when kids use it really young, it does more damage than good. Kids younger than thirteen should use their time exploring the “real” world around them sans social media, forming their identity and friendships before they take to the online world.

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