Social media. We love a quick wander through our echo chamber while standing in the checkout line at Aldi, liking pictures of beautiful latte art while we pack a jar of instant into a bag for life. And with kids being the naturally nosey blighters they are, they have sussed out how to hashtag and operate Instagram Stories way before us. Although they’re pretty much experts by the age of five, they can’t legally have an account of their own until they hit 13.
Why? Well, it’s not because the platforms are inherently unsuitable for younger children, but because of a law the United States passed in 1998 that said that companies could not collect data from children under the age of 13 without their parents’ permission. Many platforms decided that it wasn’t worth the expense and work involved (fair enough) and instead restricted their services to over-13s. While it’s not against the law to set up an under 13 with an account in the UK, it does violate terms and conditions of the network which could result in accounts being removed.
But we all know there are kids out there with their own accounts, don’t we? (Let’s be honest, our follower numbers would look even more pitiful without being bolstered by nephews and godchildren.) So what’s the problem?
While the legal stuff above drove the 13+ limit, the knock on effect has been a slightly more relaxed attitude towards content – by officially excluding kids, you don’t have to worry about what might upset them. Much in the way of questionable content will be naturally limited according to the friends or followers your child accepts, however, and you can lock their account right down to MI5 levels of invisibility via the privacy settings. But they may get curious…
While Instagram famously vetoes boobs (much to the chagrin of the breastfeeding community), there’s a very real possibility your precious child may innocently stumble across some not-so-innocent pictures. Likewise, we’ve all seen expletive-riddled Facebook updates or sweary GIFs, so if it’s inappropriate content you’re most fearful of then expect social media to keep you awake at night. Of course, parents of teens may not want kids seeing this stuff either, so think carefully before granting access the second your newly minted teenager has blown out the birthday candles.
What else? Recently introduced features to Instagram and Facebook allow users to broadcast Stories – short snippets of video content that remain visible for 24 hours – as well as live broadcasting, neither of which have any kind of censoring or content controls. These functions mirror those of Snapchat, which is another big fave of the youth. With all three, the same content issues apply – you may not care if your kid watches David Beckham go out for sushi AGAIN but the live feature adds an element of unwanted risk and unpredictability.
And the reverse is true, too. Without the proper privacy settings, your child’s innocent forays into internet broadcasting could be viewed by anyone who finds them (here’s where the message about not revealing any personal data needs to be reiterated once again – keep your kid safe!). Lock down the messaging features in social media apps to avoid unwanted approaches – this applies to any of the messaging apps, too, including Whatsapp and Kik.
Finally, while our embarrassing teen moments played out in front of our peer group and were mostly forgotten (save those truly awful incidents that made local folklore), our kids won’t grow up in such a forgiving environment. A damaging online footprint can linger for a long, long time, providing ammunition for bullies or even affecting future job prospects. Talk to your kids about what to share online and what to keep private. Show them how to untag themselves from unflattering images and try to foster safe and supportive friendships that don’t thrive on teasing or worse.
Leading by example is the best way here. Beano.com recently surveyed parents about internet safety and discovered 71% don’t know how Instagram works and 51% said the same about Snapchat. Download the apps, set up an account and scope out the digital landscape, just as you would if you were dropping your kid off for a playdate with someone new. Figure out the settings yourself and you’ll be best placed to discuss it all with the kids. In a minute though, there’s an ex-England captain eating raw fish to watch first…