How Young is Too Young for Social Media?

A new study shows Facebook is still the most popular social networking site among teens (although interest appears to be waning slightly, with Twitter and Instagram taking the second and third positions). Teens spend, on average, 2 hours and 2 minutes online a day, with most of that time being spent on social networking sites. This handy infographic spells out more about how teens spend their time on social media:


Frequently, though, it’s not just older teens who are using social media. A new article in the Washington Post explores the implications of the growing popularity of the photo-sharing site Instagram among those younger than 13. Although technically (like Facebook) you have to be over 13 to join Instagram, that disclaimer is not easily found, and many preteens are on the site- with or without their parent’s permission. Children’s advocates say that access to social media before children are ready can have negative, and even dangerous, consequences. A new petition is asking that Facebook (which owns Instagram) automatically make default settings for 13-17 year-old’s private, and that it disable geolocation for that age group as well. (Geolocation lets Instagram determine and share the exact location where a picture is shared, something parents say can unintentionally reveal too much personal information to strangers on the internet.)


Besides putting pressure on social media sites to be more responsible with young people’s information, what can parents who are concerned about their preteen’s or teen’s use of social media do? We have some suggestions:

1) Make the decision about what you think is the appropriate age for your child to be on social networking sites (be it Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or something else.)

2) Make sure you have access to their accounts, and know who their friends are. Be engaged in their digital lives.

3) Have a conversation about privacy settings, and make sure your teen or preteen is aware of who they’re sharing information with.

4) Set ground rules for what gets shared online, and how. No posting photos that could make others feel excluded. No nasty comments. Say “no” to strangers.

5) In case it comes up, teach your teen how to respond to cyberbullying.

6) Make sure your teen or preteen knows they can always talk to you about anything that’s happening in their social-media lives.

What do you think? What’s the right age to start using social media? How much responsibility should social media sites take in insuring teenager’s information remains private, and that those younger than 13 are not using the sites?



Vanessa Wright