At what age should a child be using Social Media?
Posted on 9th January 2020
As the use of Social Media grows so does the concern for our children’s safety.
As local Family Solicitors we are often asked by worried parents when and if they should allow their children to use social media. So, are there any laws against children using social media and what can we do to protect them?
“For too long social networks have failed to prioritise children’s safety and left them exposed to grooming, abuse, and harmful content. So it’s high time they were forced to act through this legally binding duty to protect children, backed up with hefty punishments if they fail to do so” - NSPCC CEO Peter Wanless.
As it stands most popular social media platforms have an age restriction of 13, although as of 2018 WhatsApp have upped this to 16, however many have found ways around this in order to set up their own accounts and a recent poll has found that 18% of 8-11 years have some form of social media. Even children as young as 5 are using the internet in order to watch video on YouTube or play games online.
Of course the most pressing concern for parents is how vulnerable their children will become to online predators, with apps such the snapchat and Facebook allowing you to befriend anyone online and hide and delete posts, this leaves our children open to the “unknown”. It is very easy for people to hide behind their screens and pretend to be someone else leading to online grooming.
Whilst many parents are checking their children’s phones or only allowing their child supervised access to social media, the creation of the apps such as the “Vault” has given children the opportunity to be able to hide messages and apps from any prying eyes. To anyone else the app looks like a calculator, however it requires a code in order to access hidden messages and photos.
Of course befriending unsavoury characters isn’t the only danger lurking online for children; there is the risk on online bullying and being able to easily access harmful photos. As such with the case of 14 year old Molly Russell who tragically took her own life after viewing imagery associated with depression and self-harm. A quick search of depression on Instagram links to thousands of easily accessible accounts in which suicide and depression are romanticised. At 14 Molly had her whole life ahead of her, she had dreams and plans, and being able to view such material undoubtedly planted thoughts into her mind that she may not have necessary had should she not have been able to access the images.
With the era in which we live social media is playing a big role in our lives, children are spending less time outside and more time gaining likes and fame on social media platforms. Many children now have aspirations of becoming famous YouTubers or Influencers, therefore projecting themselves across various platforms for anyone to see, and acting older, this can lead to bullying from others and a pressure to “stay relevant” and have the perfect life, which can impact their mental health.
Many younger social media users post things to fit in with the crowd without knowing what they are posting can have serious consequences on others on themselves in the future. posting racial or homophobic remarks may seem silly whilst they are young but as most workplaces are checking prospective employees’ online presence to get a better idea of them, it can lose them losing out carer prospects. MG legal’s team of solicitors have witness to this first-hand, when they have been called upon to accept instruction in employment matters.
While as Lancaster Family Solicitors, we cannot tell you when exactly the right age to allow your child to use social media, we can advise on a few tips on how to keep them safe if and when they create an account.
Parental Controls – Applying parental controls can restrict the content children are able to access. This would therefore ban any from under the age 18 from access “adult material” or age restricted websites.
Familiarise yourself with the apps they are using – new apps are released almost daily and it is important to check the app out before allowing your child access, looking into the privacy settings, who can view your child’s profile.
Passwords – while privacy is of course important, if your child is using an app that they are too young to be using then ensure you have their passwords, make it clear that the condition of them being allowed to use social media is if you have access, not in a way to spy on them but as to ensure that they are safe.
Set rules – your rules are individual to you, they can be anything from restricting the usage of social media to only allowing your child to have social media if, as such with Facebook, you are their friend on the site, and can therefore keep a close eye on the them.
Talk – we would suggest that you talk open and honestly with your child and explain that whilst being online can be a fun way to keep in contact with friends, there is also a dark side to it, having an social media account is a big responsibility that they are being trusted with.
Ultimately the decision as to when you allow your child to start using social media, every child is different and you know them best. But if you are worried then help and advice can always be found on the NSPCC website.
In the meantime if you have any family related question that please feel free to give your friendly Lancaster Family Solicitors a call on 01524 581306.
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