1 in every 5 parents think that there are no age requirements for joining a social media site and most parents in the UK have no idea whether their children are old enough to have a social media account.
If parents have little idea about the minimum age restriction for signing up to a social media platform then is it down to schools to educate pupils and even their parents about what these age restrictions are? In a bid to protect young people from online bullying and social predators, as well as ensuring they are keeping on the right side of the law, just who’s responsibility is it to keep children safe online?
With more than four in five 13 -18 year olds having seen "online hate", including offensive or threatening language on social media sites, it is evident that many young people are not always being exposed to just positive experiences online.
CBBC Newsround, (some Countryfile viewers will remember it as John Craven’s Newsround in days gone by), conducted a survey, which identified that more than three-quarters of children aged 10 to 12 in the UK have social media accounts, even though they are below the minimum age limit.
Why Do Age Restrictions Matter?
There’s a reason why children must be aged 12 and over and at least 135cm tall before they are allowed to sit in the front passenger seat of a car using an adult seat belt. It’s the same reason that young people are not allowed to gamble in betting shops and casinos until they are 18 or drink alcohol before they reach the same age. Age restrictions are about keeping children safe until they are old enough to engage with an activity with complete awareness of what they’re letting themselves in for.
The Social Media Landscape For Young People Is Changing
Becoming a teenager however, brings with it peer pressure previously not experienced, when suddenly, at 13, the child is no longer a child but a teenager. It’s an exciting as well as bewildering time becoming a new teenager and rites of passage, such as creating a Facebook profile are a sign of personal growth and approaching adulthood. However, for some, wanting to become a teenager starts before they reach 13 and recent figures show that 78% of children under that age have at least one social media account already.
Do You Know Your Social Media Age Restrictions?
The majority of social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr, Google+, Pinterest have a minimum age requirement of 13. YouTube is 18, as is the photo sharing site Flickr, although a child can sign up to YouTube account at just 13 with their parent’s permission. The mobile chat app WhatsApp is unusual in so far as it has a minimum age requirement of 16.
With such variation when it comes to age restrictions for joining social media sites, is it any wonder that children, parents and teachers are uncertain what the rules of engagement are? Social Media sites themselves are coming under increasing pressure to make their platforms safer environments for young people and a good first step would be to ensure that age restrictions are much clearer on sign up pages.
How Do You Help Your Children Stay Safe Online?
It's important that parents & teachers guide children on how to stay safe online.
Young people appear to be aware of the dangers from potential trolling and cyber bullying online and more than two-thirds knew they could report such issues but felt that people were much more likely to ignore their concerns.
There is obviously a positive aspect to allowing children access to online sites and Hannah Broadbent, from the UK Safer Internet Centre, told the BBC: "It's so important that we show children what other things they can do using digital technology that are engaging, creative and age-appropriate. It's about showing them what else it could be and inspiring them with that."
Ultimately, as adults we all have a responsibility to ensure that children are safe when surfing the internet and social media platforms.
What Advice Is Available?
If you have parents who and looking for advice on how to keep children safe online then they can visit Internet Matters.
The site was founded by the UK's four major broadband providers; BT, Sky, Talk Talk and Virgin Media with the BBC and Google recently joining as partners and offers advice on everything from setting parental controls on devices to cyber bullying and sexting.
Through Internet Matters, parents are able to access the tools, information and guidance they need to make the right decisions.
The online education site E-safety Support helps teaches in their role of protecting children when they’re online by offering both educational material for teaching children, and also training for teachers across a number of e-safety topics. In January of 2017, research commissioned by Besa (British Education Suppliers Association) called for e-safety to become a part of every teacher’s ongoing CPD when a survey of 1,300 ICT lead teachers revealed that around half thought that teachers lacked the required e-safety training.
Both parents and teachers can take action by helping children understand how to manage the risk online by applying these useful tips I came across on the site Wales Online:
Show them how to set privacy settings at the strongest level. Sites can change privacy settings so make sure you stay up to date with them.
Report people and inappropriate conversations to the site administrator via the ‘help’ or ‘report’ tab (if available) and always keep a copy of the conversation as evidence.
Teach your child how to block or ignore people on social networking sites and online games, and support them in knowing what they can do if someone makes them feel uncomfortable.
Set boundaries about which sites they can use and for how long. Try to do this when they first start using social networking sites, so they get used to it from a young age.
Teach your child never to share any personal details – this includes their password, real name, address and their school.
There’s no question that the internet brings with it wonderful opportunities for children to learn about and explore the world we live in. But just as you wouldn’t send a 10 year old out of the front door with a suitcase and suggest they travel the world unsupervised to expand their horizons, then by accompanying them on their online journeys we can at least help ensure their e-safety and a bright digital future.
We would like to thank our guest blogger Steve Phillip for his thoughts on this topic. If you would like to share your comments or suggestions on underage use of social media sites, please use the comments section below.