Kids and Social Media: How Young is Too Young?
Do you remember your first AOL screen name or the excitement you felt after having downloaded a song on Napster sans background radio commentary? Well, I certainly do. Those were highlights of my middle school years and my first entrance into the world of social media (before we called it social media, of course).
Back then, parental controls on sites were fairly unheard of, and because it took ten loud minutes to dial-up the Internet connection, it was no secret when us kids were surfing the world wide web via the family computer. While I spent most of my time online trying to build my musical shrine to Justin Timberlake and showcasing my coveted CutyGrl14 screen name in chatrooms, my older sister was in the habit of downloading “risqué” rap songs that she would play in secret when my parents weren’t home.
Well, come to find out, secrets don’t last forever, especially when you’re 12, and my sister’s dirty rap obsession was out of the bag. I was automatically guilty by association, and probably to scare us out of doing anything wrong ever again, my dad had us sit and listen to the lyrics with him. I admit, it was pretty traumatizing listening to Khia’s “My Neck, My Back” with my dad, but it made me realize that the Internet isn’t just a place to score free music and have fun with your friends, it is an open source of information available to everyone, regardless intent, age, gender, etc. and can be dangerous if not used appropriately.
Although Napster is long gone (thank you Metallica) and exposure to music unintended for my little ears has not significantly affected my ability to function as an adult, the precedent falls along the same lines as why parental controls are now available on anything from TiVo to cellphones; why social networking sites have age requirements; and why some scientists worry that pre-adolescent use of these sites, which have been linked to Internet addiction among adults, could be damaging to children’s relationships and brains as they mature. So, how are parents handling their child’s entrance into this high-tech world? A recent study by Retrevo.com revealed some interesting statistics about parents and their attitude towards social media, technology, and other aspects of the digital age:
- 79% of ALL parents allow texting during family meals
- 64% of parents of teenagers allow texting during family meals
- 8% of parents are okay with kids under 12 having a social media page; 30% think 13 – 15 years old is the right age, 36% say 16-18, and 26% believe over 18 is appropriate
- 12% of parents ban social media as a form of punishment, 18% ban all Internet usage and 47% talk with their kids as a form of discipline.
- 48% of parents on Facebook are “Friends” with their kids
From these stats alone, it’s obvious that social media and tech devices are increasingly penetrating our daily lives and are no longer intended just for teenagers and adults. Networks such as Disney’s Penguin Club and WebKinz are catering just to kids as young as 5 and mimic sites like Facebook with in-app games and social capabilities. The long-term effect social networking and increased use of gadgets will have on children is hard for scientists to say for sure, but the reality is that we’re living in a technology driven world and that’s not going to change anytime soon.
Care to share your thoughts or tell us how you handle your child’s online life and gadget use? Let us have it right here or on the VoxOx Facebook page. Can’t wait to hear from you!