Nearly all social media apps include age restrictions in their user agreement… and the vast majority require users to be 13, although a few are rated 16+ (What’s App & Vine). Some parents allow their kids on social media before they meet the age restriction, which we believe to be a dangerous precedent — don’t let your kid’s first choice on social media be a lie.
For the sake of argument, let’s go ahead and just talk about those kids who legitimately wait until they hit the big 1-3 before creating their Instagram or Snapchat profile. After all that agony and sacrifice of waiting, they deserve to have fun, right?
As parents, it’s our job to know what responsibilities and privileges our kids are ready for at every stage of their lives. When you look at the research about the teenage brain, it makes sense that teenagers often make irrational or impulsive choices — their frontal lobe (the part that governs reasoning) is still developing. They’re not adults, and they don’t have the capacity to make weighty decisions with the same reasoning skills we have.
13 is NOT a magic number. Your 12-year-old the night before his 13th birthday is the same kid as the one eating special birthday waffles the next morning. Same challenges, insecurities, hormones, and social circle.
Is that kid really ready to handle vast amounts of mature content available with a simple click in any social media account?
Most kids at 13 (heck, even at 16!) lack the reasoning and wisdom needed to navigate the increasingly dangerous and drama-filled landscape of social media. In fact, when reading the book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, I couldn’t help but notice that the teens interviewed who seemed to have the most balance and maturity online were those who started their social media lives closer to 16 rather than 13.
Brain underdevelopment at 13 is one issue, and a significant one, but it’s not the only thing at play. Underprepared parents are also a huge part of the problem.
Are parents of 12-year-olds diligently researching the apps they’re getting ready to allow? Are they using them in preparation of needing to teach their soon-to-be teenager how to stay safe on that app? Do they understand the risks? Nearly all of the moms I’ve talked to about it specifically don’t. And it’s not just moms of 12-year-olds… it’s parents in general.
If you were to watch the headlines daily for online safety issues (I do), you would see a reoccurring theme as I have: “underaged.” It’s a word that often legally applies to kids under the age of 16, and it appears A LOT in really horrifying social media stories. The younger kids are the ones making the more damaging mistakes.
We realize that the peer-pressure (and the kid-to-parent pressure) for social media entry at 13 is ridiculously intense. We feel it too, having a 12-year-old. We’re looking for other ways to satisfy our son’s desire to participate in the technological society he hears so much about. Thankfully, most of his closest friends all have parents with similar views, so the speeding train to the inevitable seems to have slowed for now.
I just know this. We have one chance to do this parenting thing well. When they hit 25 we don’t get a do-over (maybe that’s the allure of grandparenting?). I can see the massive potential in both of my boys, and I don’t want to have the regret of wishing I had waited a little longer to introduce them to their digital footprint. Our goal right now is to strengthen our relationships with our boys so that one day when we cross that threshold, their social media missteps (all teens have them) will cause them to turn to us for wisdom, comfort, and understanding about how to move forward. We are building the roots down deep so the trees will stand when the storms come. The phase we’re in now only happens ONCE. ONCE! And all of the subsequent phases depend on how this one goes.
If you’ve already crossed the social media threshold and are wondering how to backtrack (do you know how many parents we talk to ask about this?)… just know that you can. Others have done it. It’s not easy, but it is doable.
If you’re wondering when the right time is to make that leap… we’re asking you to wait as long as you possibly can. Allow your kid to demonstrate maturity. Put them through a series of hypothetical scenarios to see if they would pass the test. Talk to them about the horrifying social media headlines. Approach the beast with reverence and sobriety.
13… a beautiful, awkward milestone. BUT NOT MAGICAL.