With so many of us adults burying our faces in our smartphones these days, it's easy to overlook the kid over in the corner getting his or her own phone and jumping in to social media. Yet while adults sign up on different platforms and navigate through the many social media sites with little deliberation, this freedom to surf is fraught with danger when it comes to kids.
In fact, there are potential financial and emotional dangers, pitfalls and future consequences to worry about -- whether you're coming to the issue as a parent or as someone with an online site creating content for young users.
How young is too young?
If your child (or potential customer) is below 13 years of age, it is advisable that that he or she stay away from social media. Most social media platforms like Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook have implemented stringent measures to bar children below this age from signing up. This is in accordance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which:
- Controls how companies should interact with young people online.
- Has guidelines in place ruling that data from children under 13 years cannot be collected without parental permission.
Still, because kids may succeed at passing themselves off as adults on sign-up forms while they’re still minors, they're paving the way to a number of risks which their parents should be asking about.
Do age restrictions mean that all 13-year-olds aren't ready because of their age?
One rule cannot work for all children. Children mature in different ways and at different rates and, as a parent, you ought to consider a couple of things. For instance, if you are struggling with: your children's attention-span problems, the hard time you're having getting them to sleep and their trouble in school due to poor focus, then your plan to introduce new technology to them this Christmas won't be setting them up for success, even if they're over 13.
So, give them time to become well-adjusted teens before you introduce a smartphone or computer (for nonschool purposes).
Similarly, your children might be mature enough to use social media before they’re 13. However, to stay safe, you're best off waiting until they’re 13 before deciding whether they can be on social media.
Understanding social media’s connection to health isn’t easy (but it isn’t hard either)
We live in a connected society: Information is freely exchanged, and the internet is affordable for most of us, a fact that fuels that (potentially dangerous) sharing of information.
The bottom line is that connecting with people from all over the world isn’t hard. But ensuring that these relationships are healthy, is. It requires a considerable level of maturity; and a lack of maturity may open the way to victimization, bullying and depression.
Health experts have found out, moreover, that social media is addictive. A review study by Nottingham Trent University scrutinized social media use, personality and psychological characteristics and concluded that some people who use social media excessively are more likely to neglect their personal lives. These people live in denial as they try to conceal their addictive behavior and mental preoccupation.
More studies have linked the use of social media to depressed feelings in children. A greater use of social media may mean less happiness and general dissatisfaction with life. And that can lead to depression.
Feelings of social isolation also to a large extent steam from social media use. A team observed the extent to which people used 11 social media sites, including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. It turned out that those who spent more time on these sites felt more socially isolated -- and these were adults, not 13-year-olds.
When teens are involved
Have you taken a closer look at the heart-breaking portrait that social media usage paints of young people? Since 2012, there has been a rise in anxiety and depression in high school kids, regardless of whether they live in rural or urban areas.
In 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services reported, three million teens aged between 12 and 17 were found to have had at least one major episode of depression in 2015. Girls were found to be at more risk than boys.
Bill Gates and Steve Jobs restricted their own children from using their gadgets
It’s widely known that two of the biggest tech moguls of all time didn't allow their children to own smartphones until they reached a certain age.
Last April, Bill Gates told the U.K. newspaper The Mirror that he forbids his kids (then ages 20, 17 and 14) from using gadgets during a meal and wouldn't allow them to have a smartphone till they were 14 years old. He pointed out that getting enough sleep was a major reason for these strictures.
The late Steve Jobs, asked how his kids liked the then-new iPad, said in a 2014 interview that his kids hadn’t used the iPad and that he and his wife limited the amount of technology their children used at home.
Some may see a hint of hypocrisy there. In their book, Screen Schooled: Two Veteran Teachers Expose How Technology Overuse is Making Our Kids Dumber, authors Joe Clement and Matt Miles questioned how two of the biggest tech moguls rarely let their own children use the devices that they themselves did so much to create. “What is it these wealthy tech executives know about their own products that their consumers don't?" the authors wondered.
Too much of anything can be poisonous. While raising tech-savvy kids may be an act of pride for a parent in this digital world, there are adverse effects to exposing such young brains to a world full of information they’re not yet ready to learn. Is your child at risk? That's something to think about as you decide on this year's Christmas gift list.
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editors