Wait, what? Is this normal? How? Why?
These were my reactions when I got an Instagram follow from my eight year old cousin. Fast forward a couple weeks to Christmas Day, and I am talking to him about how he is in love with his new iPhone, and he’s got the most followers on Instagram in his grade. We walk into the other room and my cousin, who is a sophomore in high school, is talking with my brother about how she has to delete her Instagram post if it doesn’t get at least 50 likes within the first two hours of it being posted. Huh? There’s only 2 of my pictures that have over 50 likes on them!
Fast forward to today where I now ask myself, when do kids usually start their social media accounts? How does it change their daily interactions with one another? What does this mean for the future? Taking these questions one at a time can help me understand the new social world and how it relates to children.
Minimum age requirements have been on social networks as long as they have been in existence. The major platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and Snapchat require users to be 13 years old. Some more parent-friendly platforms like YouTube, FourSquare, and Flickr require users to be 13 but have a parent’s consent. So how is my eight year old cousin on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter posting his favorite LeBron James quotes and bragging about the touchdown he scored in peewee football? Simple, there is no mechanism in place to verify the age of users. It works on a system of trust.
A study conducted by the safety advisory site, Knowyournet found that 59 percent of children under the age of 10 are active social media users. Okay, so this means that kids are growing up attached to electronic devices, and they will be much more computer savvy than even the best of us are now. No problem! But how does this constant interconnectivity affect the development of a young child’s outlook on the world?
Children who use social media experiencing school the same way any of us did, they just have an additional medium to document all communications on. Maintaining appearances is often the number one concern of high schoolers now adays, and part of maintaining a popular appearance is the number of likes or followers you have. From a developmental point of view, social media can help schools harness student’s love of social media. A Philadelphia school is now teaching first graders how to program with the use of an Angry Birds knockoff program. Students will engage with one another to work in more of a collaborative manner while the teacher largely facilitates their conversations. These tactics have been applied from elementary schools to high schools with varying degrees of success. So what does this mean for the future? Will kids have poor social skills because they have their eyes glued to a screen all day long? Not exactly.
The number of helpful and useful social media platforms can do wonders for a child’s development. There are plenty of examples where social media platforms are used for bullying or other harmful uses, but schools and platforms are starting to get a handle on how to manage those issues. As long as the positives outweigh the negatives, children will grow up in a world surrounded by information older generations may have never been exposed to growing up. They can harness this information and apply it to problems we don’t even realize exist yet and figure out creative way to collaboratively solve them using social platforms.
So it isn’t fair for me to judge my cousins about their quest for the most number of likes they can get or question the fact that they are signed up before they are supposed to. They are merely capitalizing on social platforms to connect with their peers, influence others, and learn as much as they can. Isn’t that what we are all trying to do anyway?
During my research, I also found this infographic and thought you all might like it interesting. I would also love to hear from parents to see their thoughts on their children’s use of social media.