Although the minimum age is 13, there are many younger children who are hidden users on Facebook and other social media networks.
According to a recent US study reported about in the Atlantic, one-quarter of children aged 12 and under used Facebook and lied about their age to join the site.
34% of Facebook users in the study were 8-to-10-year-olds.
Even more shocking, Consumer Reports found that, of the twenty million minors on Facebook, 7.5 million of them are under age 13.
Facebook isn’t the only social media platform with hidden, underage users. Photo-sharing sites and apps, such as Instagram, Tumblr, and Snapchat, which all have a minimum age of 13, are especially popular among the elementary school set.
Although there is no hard data on how many underage kids use the app, the Atlantic reports that Instagram is the most-used photography site for 12-to-17-year-olds.
Is underage social media use harmful to children?
According to the psychologists and educators in the US study, “Engaging in these online social interactions prior to necessary cognitive and emotional development that occurs throughout middle childhood could lead to negative encounters or poor decision-making.
As a result, teachers and parents need to be aware of what children are doing online and to teach media literacy and safe online habits at younger ages than perhaps previously thought.”
This means that kids younger than 13 are joining social media networks that are meant for teenagers and adults before they’re developmentally and cognitively ready.
According to cyberpsychologist Mary Aiken, children ages 4 to 12 are the most vulnerable population online. But this age group is not only vulnerable to online predators, cyber bullies, and adult content.
Aiken argues that kids under 13 haven’t gone through the stages of identity formation yet, and therefore have trouble distinguishing their cyber-selves from reality.
What are other consequences of underage social media use?
The Atlantic reports that, in general, the younger the user, the more friends they have on a social media network. On the face of it, this sounds like a good thing.
However, studies have shown that these young users are more prone to cyber bullying because although they may have more friends on Facebook, often the friends they have in their large online network are not true friends.
Their “friends” on social networks may be classmates or casual acquaintances, rather than close friends. This may explain why a Consumer Reports study found that during the past year alone 1 million children were harassed, threatened, or subjected to other forms of cyber bullying on Facebook.
How can you teach your child about social media in a protected environment?
There is a safer alternative to Facebook and Instagram. It’s the eebudee app. Designed for kids 13 and under, eebudee is a secure app that allows kids, their parents, close friends, and extended family members to learn about social media in a safe, private environment. (Only you, the parent, or another responsible adult determines who can join in.)
With eebudee, kids learn to communicate, interact, and behave online, without the real-world dangers and consequences. The eebudee chat app is available on Android and iPhone.
You can also sign up for eebudee on our website to learn more about safe social media.
The eebudee online platform and app are in beta phase and will be officially launched mid-year 2017. If you have any feedback or suggestions, we would love to hear from you.