For most modern parents – even eSafety Commissioners – the clock is TikToking for when we might get asked by our kids if they can go on social media.
The ‘go-to- app’ at the moment for kids is the hugely popular video sharing platform TikTok and my own moment came the other day when one of my third graders asked if she could download it because one of her 8 year old friends was posting dance videos to the platform.
These are tough calls for parents, and especially those of our generation who don’t necessarily understand the increasingly important role social networking sites like these play in the social lives and identity development of our kids.
This makes the decision even harder. On the one hand you don’t want your kids being excluded and missing out on having fun with their friends, but you also have to be mindful of the risks.
In the end, my answer was no, which, while exacerbating my daughter’s highly attuned FOMO, was the right decision for her at her young and impressionable age.
It may surprise you to learn that even before Australian kids have graduated from primary school they are already using at least three social media sites.
With over 1.6 million users in Australia alone, TikTok is one of the most popular, allowing them to make fun videos and share them with their mates. It sparks tremendous creativity and is incredibly engaging for “kids” of all ages.
But what parents need to remember is that sites like TikTok, YouTube, Instagram and even Facebook, aren’t really suitable for kids.
These platforms are what we call co-mingled sites, which in a nutshell means your kids are on there with sometimes foul-mouthed teens – and fully grown adults. This increases their risk of receiving unwanted contact from strangers, being bullied, or being exposed to content they are not ready for.
We’ve all seen those parents, some celebrities among them, who encourage their young kids to use social media, even creating and curating their social media profiles and turning them into mini Insta-influencers.
But would these same parents be ok with their 8-year-old son or 6-year-old daughter going off and having a private conversation with a lone male stranger during a visit to the park?
Of course, the answer is no, so why are we less worried about exposing them to similar risks online?
Most of the big social media platforms already have minimum age limits, which require users to be at least 13 years old to join. And the message it sends should be clear, these platforms are not made for young children.
While platforms like video sharing giant YouTube and Facebook with Messenger Kids, have made forays into kids only versions, it’s also important for parents to remember even these sites are not ‘set and forget’ and there have been instances where young children have been exposed to inappropriate content while their parents are in the next room.
Even when your child does finally embark on their teen years, it doesn’t magically make them ready for the tumultuous world of social media.
You know your child and their level of maturity and resilience better than anyone else, so the question of when your child is truly ready is ultimately your call.
And when the time does finally come when you feel your child is ready to join co-mingled platforms, start the journey together, keep a watchful eye on the road ahead, and reassure them with an experienced hand on the wheel.
When that time comes for my own daughter, teens may have moved on from TikTok, but no doubt there will be a new must-have app to take its place.
eSafety is here to help parents and carers along this journey. Check out our website for more information and advice to navigate this tricky terrain:
- eSafety Guide: learn about the latest apps, games and social media sites, including how to protect your child’s information and report inappropriate content.
- Is my child ready for social media?: key questions to help you determine your child’s readiness for social media.
- Good habits start young: learn how to build your child’s digital intelligence and resilience, to equip them with the skills they need to get the best out of the internet, and overcome adversity when it occurs.
This is the full version of an opinion piece by eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant, originally published in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald on 17 August 2020.