Social Networking: How Young Is Too Young?

You must be thirteen years old to join Facebook.com. That’s Facebook’s definition of the appropriate minimum age for the social media website. But just because Facebook says that age 13 is okay, that doesn’t mean that it’s right for everyone.

These days, children are finding ways to circumvent their parents and social media age requirements to sign up for social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace. While this may seem like innocent fun, this behavior has the ability to become damaging.

For one, since it’s so easy to make false Facebook and Myspace accounts, being on a social networking website gives kids a sense of anonymity. This presents the opportunity for kids to get in trouble. They may talk to people that they shouldn’t be talking to, or worse, opening themselves up to unnecessary cyber bullying. It’s no secret that cyber bullying occurs in today’s culture (as is evident from Phoebe Prince’s story), and young kids may not be emotionally prepared to handle the struggle that comes along with the internet’s anonymity.

Additionally, overuse of social media as a child may lead to internet addiction as the kids become adults. According to CNN.com, therapists have stated that the overuse of social media “could be damaging to children’s relationships and brains.” This theory is not universally recognized, and of course will not affect all children, but it does raise a point that children should be involved in face-to-face interaction and positive activities, like playing sports, drawing or learning an instrument.

Use of social networking as a child may create a lifelong addiction to multi-tasking, which can be more negative than positive. According to Surf Net Parents, while kids’ brains are changing to accomodate the multiple forms of stimulus all around us, “scientists have proven that this type of behavior results in a learning style that allows for less retained memory.” Plus, with social media being so portable, it’s not hard to believe that a child in a school classroom might sneak a look at her phone instead of paying complete attention to her teacher.

Not all social media is necessarily negative for children. Some social networking sites, such as Togetherville, can even be age appropriate for children. However, that doesn’t mean that children should necessarily be exposed to social networking at such a young age. Computers can, of course, be very positive for children and their learning, but there becoming involved in social media too young can stunt interpersonal skills in children. Social networking has the ability to become a child’s primary form of communication, which can negatively affect important life skills like interpersonal communication. This can make things like school reports and job interview more difficult later in life.

So, if your child wants to use social media, what can you do? First of all, you can say no. However, if you allow the child to use social media before you think she is fully ready, make sure you have the password and can monitor the child’s activities. And, limit time spent on the social media site to a time limit of your choosing. Social media can be used positively, and as long as a child uses it positively, in moderation and when old enough to handle it, it can be a great addition to a child’s social interactions.

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