One of the internet’s fallacies is that users under the age of 13 can’t have social media accounts. It’s technically against their terms and conditions but, in reality, unenforceable on a large scale.
I’ve seen this never-believed myth as a source of regular friction in families and in schools and, often, a point of bitter contention between the two.
How can you have shared expectations between the home and the home group teacher if there is deceit from the outset? The issue has always been fraught.
While hardline safety and traditional parenting advocates spout prohibition as the simple fix, we know that this is drastically ineffective and often counter-productive. Social media is social, which is a powerful motivator for most pre-teens and teens. While clear expectations of behaviour are vital, total bans on social media rarely work in the long run.
But now, there are services specifically aimed at this ‘under age’ market. The largest social media giants have recently launched apps for children, such as Facebook’s Kids Messenger.
Are the giants coming for our kids?
Perhaps closer to reality is that we’re all now caught up in a data driven world – whether we have Facebook or not – and while we can be appalled at these developments, there is a silver lining. (After all, Jack was a giant-killer.)
Parent-controlled messaging apps and ‘kid friendly’ versions of popular websites are part of a gradual shift towards an age-differentiated internet. Or, at least, one that has better tools for parents to manage accounts and access. While a total transformation is unlikely, we can put aside our horrifying Grimm’s fairy tale endings and use these new tools to help our children develop safer and smarter online practices.
Underage social media use is tricky to tackle
While we were developing our ground-breaking Digital Licence – a tool for schools and families to teach online safety to tweens and teens – the underage use of social media was a tricky problem to tackle. Just as it is for schools and parents. We desperately wanted the scenarios to be relevant to children’s lived experience online, but by even mentioning their supposed Facebook and Snapchat accounts, we would seem to be condoning the behaviour. We got around it by giving their accounts to their older siblings and parents, and asking for their advice (from contextual knowledge we knew they had).
Developments such as Facebook Kids Messenger give us new opportunities to explicitly talk about online safety in social media contexts. This is also true for schools, parents and carers.
Are there concerns of privacy? Doom scenarios of our (youngest) kids as the data playthings of giant companies? Yes, and not without merit. But we are fighting these battles on many fronts, such as through regulation and laws and advocacy.
Education, which is arguably the most important aspect, is much harder when we cannot offer our children a guided, experiential approach. Children learn best from experience.
By Jeremy Blackman
Senior Advisor, Cyber Safety, Alannah & Madeline Foundation
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