How young is ‘too young’ for children to be using social media?

How young is ‘too young’ for children to be using social media?

Key points Jurisdictions across Australia have begun to introduce mobile phone bans in recent years. Most social media sites allow users to sign up at 13, but some parents say the minimum age should be raised. Experts say education, barriers and communication are key to safe social media use among young people. Social media and smartphones are an integral aspect of modern life, but when is the appropriate age to start using them? Many social media platforms – including Facebook, Instagram and TikTok – allow users to sign up from the age of 13, and some critics say the age should be raised. Now, state and territory governments are implementing bans and restrictions on smartphones, while parents seek to moderate their children’s access and exposure to social media.

So how young is “too young”, why do schools ban smartphones, and how can young people use social media safely?

‘Negatives outweigh positives’

Sydney dad Dany Elachi hopes to keep his children – aged between five and 13 – off social media for as long as possible. Mr Elachi and his wife Cynthia co-founded the Heads Up Alliance, a community of Australian families who put off social media and smartphones for their children until after they complete year eight.

Their children have access to technology, play with iPads and have laptops needed for schooling, but do not have their own smartphones or social media accounts.

Dany and Cynthia Elachi founded the Heads Up Alliance, a community of Australian families putting off social media and smartphones for children. Source: Provided / Dany Elachi

“We don’t think any benefits outweigh the many, many negatives,” Mr Elachi said. “Social media is designed to be addictive … we know predators spend a lot of time on social media, we know social media and smartphones keep a lot of kids up at night, and based on the fact that it takes up so much of their time, (kids ) don’t do other things like reading or nurturing relationships with their families.”

Mr Elachi said more education about social media safety and risks in schools was needed, as well as higher age requirements implemented by social media platforms.

“We are definitely in favor of education … in fact, we think there should be more education around these issues because it is part of our life and we need to be as ready as possible for all of this,” he said. said.

“We think a better age is probably 15 or 16, the longer you can hold out the better.”

Should schools ban phones?

In recent years, jurisdictions across Australia have begun to introduce bans and restrictions on smartphone use. From the start of term one, a mobile phone ban will begin rolling out across South Australian high schools in a bid to improve focus and reduce bullying and harassment.

Similar restrictions will also be rolled out across public schools in the Northern Territory. In 2020, Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania all introduced bans.

Educators and lawmakers have cited phones as distracting, exacerbating bullying and mental health issues among students. Patrick Thomas, Western Australia state manager for cyber security education provider ySafe, told SBS News that blanket bans are not always the key to solving social media issues. “I do understand that sometimes a ban is necessary, but we have to consider context every time,” he said.

“It’s very difficult to do a blanket approach, and that’s where education is so great – we have to consider access to phones, games, screens in general, we have to consider boundaries and communication.”

Mr Elachi and the Heads Up Alliance campaigned for limited access to phones in schools, with students only having devices if needed for lessons or needed in a medical situation.

“The primary position is no phones, but if a teacher says they are needed for a particular lesson, no one is against that, but in all other cases we think phones should be hidden and out of sight,” he said. he said.

Extremism and conspiracies on social media

Simon Copland recently completed a PhD at the Australian National University in the school of sociology, with a focus on men’s rights groups and far-right extremism on social media.” Social media provides a place for people to come together and meet people who they might not normally encounter, so if you’re a disaffected young person … you can go online and find almost any community and any explanation for why you’re facing the struggles you might be facing,” he said .

“Far-right communities offer what feels like a welcoming space, and you’re more likely to end up in those places online than you would physically.”

Dr Copland says that although young people are not inherently more susceptible to extremist content, there are certain extremist groups and creators who specifically target youth.” and groups who deliberately target young people and who do it quite cleverly,” he said.

“What we’re seeing is a trend in which leaders are trying to promote the far right as transgressive, as the new punk, or the new cool ‘it’ thing, and that certainly appeals to a lot of younger people.”

Education and borders ‘crucial’

When it comes to an appropriate time to start using social media, Mr Thomas says there is not necessarily a clear age, and depends on each individual child’s social and emotional development.” Between 10 and 13, some children may not interest, and some may be more socially and emotionally developed, so it’s an engaging space for them,” he said.

“I wouldn’t advise giving a young child a phone, but I would start giving them access to a family device.”

Mr Thomas said giving children appropriate access, boundaries and communication from an early age can promote healthy relationships with technology and social media.” The more we can talk freely about issues at home, the more we normalize the risks (of being online ) and talk about sexting, or nudity, or cyberbullying, or predatory behavior … the more we openly talk about it, the more young people feel comfortable,” he said.

“Boundaries and controlling access are just as important.”

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