I’ve always been an advocate for why kids shouldn’t be on social media. This blog is my story, with my reasons. Ultimately, my goal is to share what I’ve learned and to help you make the right decision – whatever that may be – for your children. Information is power and you should be empowered with the facts about kids and social media use.
Last week, my 11-year-old son made an impassioned plea to, “Pleasssssse let me get a Snapchat account. Everyone in my class has one and I’m left out of the group chat.”
This put me in a difficult position because for one, I’ve been working in digital for well over a decade and I’m well versed on the negative effects of children in social. More so, I’ve been an advocate for not giving underage kids social media accounts and was strict with my daughter who didn’t have any until she turned 13.
But my son is a different kid from my daughter. He’s more determined to get his way and he’s very involved with his friend group. He also games online and doesn’t really understand my reluctance. He doesn’t understand the difference between recommendation and restrictions. I went over all my reasons, none of which he was terribly interested in hearing. Except one…. there was one reason that he did understand.
Unfortunately, not all parents are fully aware of the cons. To believe, “I have an account so my child can too” or “I trust my child” is dangerous thinking, at best. I have seen way too many parent’s say they monitor their kids activity but guess what, if a kid wants to find a loophole, they will. Here’s what parents need to know, which includes my #1 rule-of-thumb, household rule, that even my son couldn’t argue against. Let’s count them down…
Reason #5: Overall Maturity
To some degree, we all think our kids know better. We talk to them about “stranger-danger” and warn them about online bullying. But, are we putting too much pressure on them and not accepting that in reality, they are just kids? Do they understand that there’s a big difference between privacy and safety? Are you absolutely sure that they understand that an online person they’ve never met isn’t a “friend”?
The ability to make good decision is a learned skill that children must develop. But this does take time and in many cases, trial by error. In Phycology Today, Jim Taylor Ph.D notes, “The fact is, it’s part of your children’s “job” to do stupid things. Bad decision making is an essential part of their road to maturity.”
Reason #4: Impact on Happiness
The truth here is simple and blunt. The Atlantic Daily reports that, “There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness.” The article goes on to explain that, “Eighth-graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who devote less time to social media.” Many people think that 10 hours is a lot, but it is really? A lot of parents I know will give their kids at least 1hr of screen time a day… and that does add up. That said, the reporter also points out that, “those who spend six to nine hours a week on social media are still 47 percent more likely to say they are unhappy than those who use social media even less.”
Think about your own self. How many times has your emotional well-being been impacted by something you’ve seen online? Now picture that same reality for a child, who is less mature and in less control of their emotions. It’s a lot to think about, is it not?
Reason #3: Effects on the Brain
There are extensive studies emerging that show how dopamine, a chemical produced by the brain, can have addictive consequences on an individual. Trevor Haynes writes, “Every notification, whether it’s a text message, a “like” on Instagram, or a Facebook notification, has the potential to be a positive social stimulus and dopamine influx.” As platforms are becoming smarter with providing consistent notifications and reward for use, it’s not surprising that it’s becoming increasing harder to put down our devices.
Social media addiction is real and as much as we try to control how much we use it, we can’t control how our brains react to use. In children, this is even more important to understand because we are helping them develop long-term habits.
Reason #2: Marketing and Privacy
In the US, The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”) was introduced to protect the privacy of children under the age of 13 by requesting parental consent before any personal information can be collected or used. In Canada, there is the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (“PIPEDA”) in place but it doesn’t specifically protect children.
So why is this important and what do you need to know? In short, information we share online can be collected and used for marketing purposes. This can include tracking our usage and even location. It also means serving ads and other online marketing meant to persuade and influence. COPPA protects children from this so long as the information we allow our children to share online is truthful, which brings us to our final – and in my opinion the most vital – point.
Reason #1: We DO NOT Lie about our Age
Consider this…. we have legal restrictions on how old an individual can be before they buy alcohol, tobacco or weed. We expect our children to abide by these laws. But what lesson are we teaching if we say it’s okay to lie about your age in one instance, but not in others?
One house rule that we established early on was that we tell the truth. We’ve spent years developing a trust-based relationship, which includes consequences based on honesty and open communication. This is not about reward and punishment, it’s about dialogue and conversation. That said, telling my children it’s okay to lie about their age in order to register on a social platform seems counter-productive, doesn’t it? How do I justify it being okay to lie sometimes but not other times?
Now, one important thing to understand here is the difference between app ratings and platform registration. You’ll often see that the age to download an app is different than the age restriction to register for an account. This is because app ratings are similar to movie ratings, which are based on the appropriateness of the content while restrictions are based more on legislation, like COPPA.
My sincere hope is that this post gave you something to think about. Its intent is not to dissuade but to inform about some reasons why kids shouldn’t be on social media. At the end of the day, every parent needs to make their own decision about the online safety and well-being of their children. They alone can balance the pros and cons of their child’s digital footprint.
If you liked this post, you might also be interested in Social Media Mini-Break – How to Plan a “Vacation” or 5 Things You Need to Know for Social Media Success
Thank you for reading!