Social media training wheels

Facebook is supposed to be for people over 13-years-old, however anyone reading this who has been greeted by an age restriction, when at the time they didn’t meet the age requirement, will know what this ‘age restriction’ is the equivalent of a flimsy wooden gate trying to stop a tsunami. The number of kids on Facebook under the age of 13 in 2011 was 43%. In 2017, I imagine that figure has grown significantly.

So in light of the growing number of under 13's using Facebook, the global machine has been developing a new product especially for children. Creatively titled ‘Messenger Kids’ (give that marketer a pay rise) Facebook has now unveiled their new social media platform specifically designed for children below the age of 13. They want to drive home the idea of safety around this platform. For example, heavy parental controls that includes approving each friend request for their child. Facebook have also clarified that no data will be collected from Messenger Kids for marketing purposes, or carried over to the “grown up Facebook” which we can only assume kids will transfer across to when they hit the magic 13.

I can see why Facebook are doing this. If you look at the stats, Facebook struggles with the age demographic 6 to 12 year-olds. Snapchat and other social media platforms are ‘capturing the attention’ of this demographic before Facebook can.

So what is the problem with Messenger Kids and Facebook for kids? We have been assessing some of the commentary...

Issue number 1 – They’re kids.

Companies want to sell a product or service. Children are current and future consumers. This I understand. However, there are heavy restrictions on what you can advertise to children in this day and age. Unhealthy food? Not a chance. Violent games? Dream on. The list goes on for a while. But it seems that social media doesn’t have any restrictions - both in the selling of the product itself and also the selling of products and services through the platforms.

Issue number 2 – Kids are on the social media treadmill earlier

The big social and moral question is this: "what age is the right age for social media"? Many people start these debates with their friends on social media and I always read with interest. 'My son wants an Instagram account - do I let him? he is 8 years old". This is followed by 50+ comments from parents wondering the same thing and the debate is started. Some people say yes and others say no. There is the occasional insult or a virtual rolling of the eyes when someone says that their kid has been on Snapchat since they were five and no harm has been done so far. My question in response is always this: what is social media replacing? Time with family and friends, time with the dolls house, quality time outside in the garden or the park? We can't escape social media in adulthood but is there any harm on holding off a little longer so our children experience childhood? It's a personal parenting choice.

Issue number 3 - Social media can harm. Or can it?

Many people think social media is doing more harm than good. Tapping into my cynical side, I do worry that with the recent research highlighting that suicide among teenage girls is still rising, we are gradually allowing children to be exposed to modern pressures of society at a earlier age.

It has also been recently revealed that YouTube has been experiencing issues with ‘predatory accounts’ with estimates as many as 100,000 accounts leaving “inappropriate comments” on videos. This can't be good for our mental health.

It’s not just Facebook that are noticing this and adapting to the younger market. Amazon have recently revealed a service that allows 13 to 17-year-olds that “will now be able to get login credentials that are associated with their parent’s Amazon account.” YouTube also recently revealed the addition of ‘kid profiles’ for their video platform. Similar to Messenger, it involves heavy parental controls, however nonetheless, it’s still another digital platform that will pull children into the digital world sooner than ever before.

We can't ban social media and we wouldn't want to. but we could do more to show children the joys of life outside the social media bubble. Because it's great in the real world.