If you’re a parent who is afraid of the trouble your kids can get into on social media, or one who bans its use by your kids altogether, you might want to consider how the environment for communication and entertainment has changed over the last decade.
Kids spend a lot of time online and on their phones. That isn’t going to change. When was the last time your child called someone on the phone? It probably doesn’t happen very often because they don’t want to talk on the phone. They prefer texting or messaging over a platform or social network. Given the nature of kids and teens today, they are going to want to be where their friends are (and where their parents aren’t), whether it is in the real world or online.
I want my kids to be social. Am I allowed to dictate how they socialize? To an extent, yes, but it is important to do what is right for kids, and that probably doesn’t include cutting them off from their friends. I don’t want to be a parent who says yes to everything, but a certain level of trust when combined with eduction is a pretty good recipe.
Let’s take a look at a sampling of the major social networks and messaging platforms. What does their dictated age limit tell us:
- Facebook – 13 years old
- Twitter – no age limit but Twitter says it is not intended for users under 13 years old
- Instagram – 13 years old
- YouTube – 13 years old
- Myspace – 13 years old
- Snapchat – 13 years old
- WhatsApp – 16 years old
- Reddit – no age limit (users under 13 may not open an account but can browse the site)
First off, the Children’s On-line Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) prohibits sites from collecting information from or making available information about kids under the age of 13. The sites are doing what they have to do by law. If your child is under 13 and you allow them to join or enable them joining a network, you should reconsider.
Second, why does Reddit have no age limit? According to the company (updated January 2014):
Although we welcome users from all walks of life, our site is not aimed at children, and the United States government has put limits on our ability to accept users under a certain age through the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998. Individuals under the age of 13 may not create an account with us. If you believe someone 12 or younger is using our site without parental consent, please contact us.
Third, why is the age limit 13 for Snapchat, which is well know for sexting, versus 16 for WhatsApp? I’m not sure, but it may have something to do with the fact that WhatsApp is not free.
Fourth, it is well know that the social sites do not have the tools or manpower to effectively enforce their age restrictions. If you child lies about his age, or you do it for him, it is unlikely that the infraction will ever be discovered.
What is the bottom line for parents? Social sites and apps have an age limit for a reason, and parents should be aware of the limits and keep their kids in line with the restrictions.
For kids over the age of 13, the answer is not so straightforward. Before saying yes or no for any given site, we would encourage parents to figure out how the site works and how it is generally used. A simple Google search can accomplish this. If you are inclined to say yes, spend some time establishing guidelines with your kid – let them know exactly what you think is safe and appropriate. We recommend you resist the urge to constantly look over their shoulder, but try to be aware of who your kids are communicating with and what kind of content they are viewing. Trust but verify.
If you do adopt this type of approach, but want to have someone take a comprehensive look to make sure your child is not at risk, we can help with that.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.