Many social media sites' user agreement rules state that children must be at least 13 years old to open a Facebook account or log into MySpace. A 2011 Consumer Reports poll found, however, that 7.5 million of Facebook users are younger than the mandated age. Though Twitter does not require a minimum age for an account, parents still should monitor their child's online activity. While young children may not see the harm in accessing social media, there are inherent dangers in being too connected.
With millions of people around the world regularly logging in to social media, odds are there will be some dangerous people attempting to contact your child. Sexual predators are a real threat to young children. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, it is believed that more than half a million pedophiles are online every day. These predators mask their true identity, and transform themselves into whoever they need to be to lure naive children into their web. Predators may lurk in chat rooms or use instant messengers to send pornographic messages or pictures. Some may even try to arrange a meeting with your child.
In some children, too much access to social media can trigger low self-esteem, and the intensity of the online world can cause or worsen anxiety or depression. "Facebook Depression," a term coined by the American Academy of Pediatrics, may result when children see status updates or photos that make them feel unpopular or excluded from events. Youngsters who use Facebook to compare themselves to others also may experience feelings of self-worthlessness.
Digital footprints refer to the fact that what is posted online does not go away -- posts and tweets will follow your children into adulthood. Young children lack the foresight to censor their online activities for those who may see their postings in the future. They do not have the awareness or maturity to realize how future employment opportunities, relationships or college applications may be impacted by anything unflattering they or others post online. The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act prohibits web sites from collecting information on children younger than 13 years without parental permission. Consequently, the official terms of service for many popular sites now mirror the COPPA regulations and state that 13 years is the minimum age to sign up and have a profile. Twitter, however, does not have an age minimum.
Not all effects of social media are harmful. Social networking allows children to communicate easily with friends and family they do not see regularly. It also can provide opportunities for community involvement, like raising money for charity and volunteering for political or philanthropic events. It also exposes them to different ideas and ideologies, and helps to develop the type of technical and social skills necessary for 21st century living.