Content warning: This post discusses risk of sexual abuse.
A 2016 update to a study tracking digital trends found that the average age for children receiving a cell phone is now 10.3 years old. 24% of kids are allowed to privately use their internet-connected devices (as opposed to using them in a public room where parents can monitor their use). By age 12, half of all kids have social media accounts. Only 27% of parents use programs to monitor and filter their children’s internet content. And this is where this post gets dark: Social media companies have to manage too much content to effectively protect your child from predators. Social media has created the opportunity for traffickers and pedophiles to access kids with virtual anonymity and little regulation. Predators create accounts and encourage kids to post sexual content. If you, like me, thought sexting was limited to older teenagers inappropriately sending alluring photos of themselves to their crushes, you might be surprised to learn the term includes any sexually leaning content that is sent digitally.
I encourage all parents who have children with internet-connected devices, who use SnapChat, TikTok or any social media site to create an account yourself, posing as the youngest possible age and browse public facing content. You know, use it like your child uses it, accessing any of the content they might if they were bored. Then read the comments. You might find it disturbing. And you certainly won’t want your prepubescent daughter or son trying to make sense of those comments in the privacy of their own room. Is your child’s gaming platform internet connected? Predators can, in general, create any number of accounts for free and when one gets banned, it’s easy to open a new account.
This all sounds very dramatic and scary for something that kids across the nation use on a daily basis, but kids are being exposed to predators on a regular basis and they are talking about these predatorial commenters with each other at school. If your kid says off-handedly that “some creeper” posted something on their account, you need to know how often this “creep” posts and what they are saying. Predatory comments are becoming normalized for our youth and I as a parent find that normalization almost as scary as the risk for abuse.
But predators aren’t the only danger that our kids have to navigate. At no other time in human history have pre-adolescents been suddenly flung into a fantasy world populated with millions of people and organizations’ ideals, fears, feelings, and agendas. We need to help our children find that balance where they can prioritize leading a healthy life in which social media takes part. For teens especially, social media can drive their lives and impact everything from sleep, to healthy eating and activity, emotional regulation, resilience, and self image.
For an overview of social media impacts on children and families, here is an article from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
HealthyChildren also has an article about how to help kids find social media balance.
For tips on how to stay connected with your kids’ internet connectivity, go here.
Want an action plan for how to mitigate risk with specific types of apps? This article has a great baseline.
How do you help protect your kids from internet dangers? Do you set limits? Do you use a monitoring program? Do you sit down as a family or one-on-one regularly to talk about your lives and discuss difficult topics? Along similar lines, do you feel your social media use impacts your kids?