In 2010, over 7.5 million minors with an active Facebook account were under thirteen years old, violating the age requirement in the site’s terms of service. Among those millions, a whole 5 million were kids ten years old or younger, and according to the Consumer Reports survey, their accounts were “largely unsupervised by their parents, exposing them to malware or serious threats such as predators or bullies.”
While many parents are not concerned about the consequences of bending the age-limit rules on social media, there are numerous reasons why you should not follow in their footsteps. Other parents may not see the harm in allowing their kids to do what everyone else is already doing, or they may not want their young ones to feel left out, but those rules exist for more than the protection of the websites.
Although your young child might want to use social media networks to engage with his friends, see what they see, and contact people he does not often meet up with, this method of socialization comes with a slew of shortcomings and even threats.
The most unnerving problem is perhaps the sexual predator, but it might shock you to learn that the most likely sexual solicitation will not come from some man lurking in his basement, pretending to be a teen girl online, but rather from your child’s peers or from older kids. Even if your child is careful to only associate with people she has met before, there is still the possibility of solicitation or other inappropriate situations occurring.
The more probable result of joining social media, however, is an early exposure to cyberbullying (and its less common form, cyberstalking). Young children are also more likely to give in to peer pressure without thinking through the consequences, which means it is possible that your child could slip into the habits of a cyberbully himself, even if he would not have started the behavior on his own.
Another threat is that hackers can get personal information through malware your child accidentally downloads . Apps on social media are not always safe, but if all the other kids are using an app or playing a game, why would your son or daughter resist doing it too? They could also get hooked in a scam, like a fake survey.
What is posted online remains out there, forever, too. Poor decisions made now, whether in a comment or a photo, could come back to haunt your child later in life. Young children do not consider all their actions in light of the long term, and they will not share their posts, comments, pictures, and videos with a mature understanding of ramifications. Unsupervised activity, which will happen one way or another, sets children up for possibly debilitating consequences.
Finally, are you ready to allow your child to lie about his age to open a social media account? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat, and more all require children to be thirteen or older. If you let your child deceive others to get his way, no matter how good the reason seems at the time, what does he learn? As harmless as an account may seem, you teach through your actions. If you show him that it’s fine to cheat the system, even if all you do is ignore what he’s doing, he will learn that getting what he wants is more important than obeying the rules.
In the formative years of your child’s life, social media is a tempting outlet for fun, hanging out, and self-expression, but it’s best for everyone that your kid waits to participate. Instead of simply saying no without giving a reason, help your child grasp the importance of this decision, and find other outlets for her to feel in the loop.