Start Your Kids Early On Social Media and Chat Apps!…Really?

Start Your Kids Early On Social Media and Chat Apps!…Really?

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You Can Do it….But Only Under Our Roof!

There’s a parenting style that some parents have advocated, probably since the cave man days, that it is better to supervise their underage child’s use of adult pursuits whether it’s alcohol/sex/smoking or even illegal drugs than to ban it completely as it will only push it underground… I even remember when I was growing up, kids being allowed to drive cars before they had their licences particularly in country areas with parental consent. Yes there are laws that set age limits on these things, but there were, and still are parents today who decide to ignore the laws and rules and opt for this parenting style instead.

Is This A Proven Parenting Preventative Messure?

Having older kids now 30 and 28yrs old, I’ve seen these different parenting styles in practice and the results amongst my own kids friends, and we have all probably been seen this parenting approach growing up, whether from our own parents or other friends parents. The success of this style of parenting probably depends very much on the families and the children involved as to whether the “under supervision, get them started early” approach works or if it doesn’t, I’d like to see some stats on it. I have to say that I saw some tragic outcomes amongst my childhood friends where the parents took this approach, smoked pot with them, and gave them alcohol at the age of 13 yrs of age, to get them “used to it in a safe environment” One lovely girl I was friends with since six grade died in her early 40’s of alcoholism and a drug over dose, she started smoking pot and drinking alcohol with her mum at 12 years old, lovely middle class well educated family with their own version of, “start them young under supervision” approach to parenting, this was NOT an isolated case. Later in the 90’s my step daughter had a friend with exactly the same sort of parents, and we were only recently talking about the sad life my daughters friend has right now. Maybe the tragedy of these outcomes has more impact on me, but I can’t honestly remember a family that had this approach where the outcome was all that positive.

The same issue is now being debated by various parents in regard to the age limits set on various mobile apps and social media platforms.

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How Young Is Too Young?

Some parents are allowing their very young children, as young as 9 years old to use social media apps like Facebook, Kik Messenger & Instagram, despite the terms of service for these platforms banning the use of them by children under 13 yrs of age, and in Kik’s case 17+. Some of the reasons for this clear breaking of the terms of service I’m hearing is, that these parents feel its better to start them young under strict supervision than to push it underground, and to teach them about good and safe use of social media for later on. In regards to pushing it underground many “Experts” and some parents assume that this will be the likely outcome, but is this really so? Some children will certainly do what they want despite any rules parents set up, but I also know some children who actually respect parents rules and the reasons behind them and won’t go behind the parents back. It really depends on the children’s personalities, and the style of parenting up to that point. Rules are set for our children both at home and school to keep them safe, and not all children have a desire to break those rules just because they are set, a lot of children do see the sense in them, or at least respect their parents enough to stick by them.

Are Your Children Emotionally Ready?

It’s important I think, that kids should only be “allowed” to participate in activities when they are emotionally able to handle them, most responsible adults would agree with that. And kids are all different, I have four of them and they couldn’t be more different. Some children under 13 yrs are simply not emotionally ready to handle the types of situations they may encounter on social media that may occur, others are naturally more responsible and cope with the social entanglements that can happen in group chats and on social media much better. I have seen and heard of many cases, my own children included, where they have decided themselves that despite being the recommended age to use a social media site they have opted to close their account down because of the behaviour they have seen by others on it, it has impaired their ability to enjoy the site.

Who Sets The Age Limits?

C.O.P.P.A The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, have set the age limits on Facebook and most other social media sites based in the countries that have agreed to comply with their regulations at 13 yrs+, not because of studies into the dangers to children on these sites, but primarily to protect our children’s privacy and prevent their data being used for marketing or being sold onto 3rd parties. Other age limits set for apps available through stores like iTunes and Google Play are set by the app developers themselves,there is no real regulation, so called dating apps like Zoosk are set at age 4+ for instance. Kik Messenger was set at 17+ after some cases appeared in the media where children were harmed after being groomed by pedophiles on Kik.  The police here in Australia say that Kik messenger is the No 1 app that is creating problems for them with complaints of bullying, sexting, and approaches by pedophiles, and yet many parents are allowing their under age kids to use this app.

Is Supervision And Education Enough?

Many parents feel that if they “supervise” their children’s accounts, check photos and updates and discuss with them the do’s and don’ts of online interactions that their children at least have a chance to have an early education that will prepare their children to use these sites with more responsibility, especially for when the terrible teens hit. But this approach only works if those parents can effectively supervise every other child in the network that the child interacts with. How does any parent know if another child on that network is also respecting the same rules that they are setting for their child. Can you really be sure that the other children in your child’s network, are not re-sharing your child’s messages, videos and photos with adult strangers. How will your young child react if something they say or post is taken out of context online, screen captured or copied and shared on an unsecure network, and ends up being used to exploit, embarrass or bully them. Are your children old enough to handle that? For that matter how will you as the parent handle it?

Which Messaging and Social Media Apps Are Safe For Under 13’s?

Any messaging app or photo app that encourages you to share your profile and updates with other social networks is not private and is not secure, not for anyone. Because although you may have set your account and updates to private, your contacts, followers or friends may not, they may be sharing your updates with complete strangers simply by interacting with your update. Someone you may have blocked online, may still be friends with one of your connections, and will then still have access to your posts through that mutual friend.

What About Your Child’s Friends? Do They have Good Supervision, and Privacy set up?

I have met several parents who started out with the “start them young and prepare them for the real world” on social networking who would never take the same approach with any other adult pursuit, but feel social media use by underage kids is less risky, I’m not sure what data they are basing this observation on.  I’ve also met other parents who took this approach and then changed their minds about it, after hearing about another child they knew, or seeing their own child hurt by something that was shared. The child may have had all the right privacy settings enabled and may have done nothing wrong, but another person connected with that child shared the update with their network and it went far further than anyone ever intended.

The Internet Is Growing And So Is The Risk

Sadly as the internet grows, and the privacy issues get more and more complex, we will hear more and more stories of children being exploited and hurt online, most likely by other kids they know personally, and in some cases by followers they barely know. I don’t believe that starting children young on social media and online platforms under the recommended age to prepare them for the grown up world, has been proven as a safe method for preventing harm down the track. I feel it is very risky for any one to suggest that parents take this approach over the recommendations set by COPPA, the Police and other security experts who see the harm being done to kids using adult social media apps on a daily basis.

On social media and other online public platforms, this “Start them young” approach is particularly risky because we cannot trust the parental supervision, privacy settings and intent of the other online connections our children make, even if they are all the same age and know each other in the offline world.

What are your thoughts?

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  • Hi Leonie,
    As a parent of a 12 year old and 8 year old, I even think 13 is too young for some social media. I am on lots of social media and it saddens me to see so many young children and what they are able to view and then reshare. I believe in age appropriate apps and it is my responsiblibilty as a parent to oversee this. We have Internet contracts and user agreements in our house. I know my safest bet is to continually educate and discuss with my kids what is appropiate and what is not because whilst I have set up on my 12 year olds iPod certain restrictions (my 8 year old has to wait til 11 to get an iPod) most of my 12 year olds friends have unlimited access to their devices, social media and I believe most of their parents are unaware of their childrens digital footprint. We have had issues with the app Clash of Clans so I also believe parents need to educate themselves to the games their children play and the interaction with others online – COC has social networking capabilities. Lots of parents I know had no idea about this. I think parents need to talk to other parents, share information and educate themselves. Thank you for the work you do, your articles are always an intersting read and educating.

    • Thanks for your comment Kristie, what do you think about this whole, if you ban it, they will do it anyway argument, and the other one, they will be left out of the social network? Is that a concern for you?

  • Hey Leonie, for COC I really wanted to ban him from it but I haven’t as he wasn’t doing anything wrong, so We made some adjustments in how he plays currently and he understand my issues with the game, or more to the point the social side of the game. We have been talking frequently last week about COC, my concerns in the way people behave, who people are and the difference between online behavior and face to face behavior. Cybersafety is regular dinner time talk for our family. He knows I am still learning and sometimes I tell him we make these learnings together. I have gotten the all my friends have Instagram/ kik and all I can say is that I cannot control what your friends have, in our family you are not allowed non age appropriate apps/social media until you are of age and even when you hit that age we will review it before its allowed. I explain to them mostly it’s not about them not having it, it is about what they are exposed too and what I believe to be age appropiate.
    The whole they’ll be left out….. Parents have said that to me as well. I hate it but I do acknowledge that it may happen. It’s such a learning process. I love technology and I love what it enables me to do and create and if for no other reason than my children I will endeavor to always stay educated and up to date with apps/ networks and anything else that concerns them. It’s a really hard balance I think but I will put their online safety before being left out. For me it is continual dialogue with them, just flat out continual dialogue. I tend to read a lot online about cybersafety, apps, networks and I try to relay in a way I can relate to them my concerns and or my expectations of their behavior. I tell them I will never post, blog, photograph, share something online I’m not happy for them to see or read and that is my expectation of them. If they would not be happy for me to read or view what they wish to share then simply don’t do it.

    • Your approach sounds just like mine actually, I found that for my younger son, who did have a Facebook account that he set up before he turned 13yrs when we shut it down he didn’t miss out really at all! He has a “dumb” phone still, and will SMS on it, on a cheap plan. I think it depends on the type of social circle your kids are in also, and how well liked they are. Some social circles in schools might be a bit more cliquey I guess. But my son still got invited to all the parties, which always came via proper card invitations and social events. I think that many of his friends parents are being just as careful on social media. I just know it wasn’t an issue for him. When he turned 13 last year, it took him months before he created his Facebook account he was concerned about the Drama on there. I keep an eye on his account, and audit both my boys accounts for their privacy settings even the 16yr old 🙂 They are so used to my intervention having started so early when they were only just allowed on the computer with strict parent controls, they are used to it. Starting early is definitely the key. It must be very hard for parents who are only just starting to monitor their kids accounts at later ages. We started with a fully parental controlled account on Mac with one app really…Kids Pix when they were around 7 years old. So no dramas, and they know all the drill having a cyber safety mum that they actually help other kids with their online issues 🙂 New issues do come up sometimes and we deal with them when they do. But there haven’t really been any for a while. Neither of my boys are interested in Snapchat or Kik.

  • Thanks for that Leonie, it’s always refreshing to chat with other parents about this. It’s so broad and such an everyday thing. My son has mobicip browser on his ipod which I have found really great. I’m with you on the early start and our school is doing a great job in teaching across our stages in cybersafety so I am hopeful and feel really positive that when my kids go to high school they will think before they make decisions and choices online. Thanks again for providing such useful and relevant information for parents to read.

    • I was shocked to read another blogger advocating use of adult social apps for children underage, when police, school teachers, and cyber security advocates are asking parents to hold off allowing their children to use these apps. Primary Schools are dealing with the fallout of children using these social media apps made for adults every day, but parents are not listening. What hope do the schools have if the parents are ignoring the warnings and encouraging their children to use these apps like Kik and instagram? Common sense needs to prevail here. The more kids use these apps, the more likely other kids will feel left out. Not every child has a vigilant parent who supervises and sets up the privacy settings. Your child then has to rely on unreliable friends online, with unaware parents. This is not the first time I’ve read a blog post encouraging parents to ignore advice from schools, police and advocates. It’s irresponsible and makes the job of keeping our kids safe online that much harder. Reminds me of the vaccine debate…don’t get me started!

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  • Poppy

    I have a 1 month baby