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Age Limit 13: Why does it exist and what does it mean?

This article was written by Kayelene Kerr from eSafeKids.


Social media and other online services has become an integral part of our lives, influencing the way we learn, connect and communicate. One notable aspect of this online landscape is the age limit, often set at 13 years old. In this blog post, we'll explore the reasons behind this age restriction and its implications for young users.


Age Limit 13 - Why does it exist and what does it mean?

Many online services have minimum age requirements. The most common is 13 years, but why is it this age and what do parents really need to know.


I believe the most important thing for parents, carers and trusted adults to know is that age limit 13 has nothing to do with the safety and/or the suitability of the site or platform for a child when they reach the age of 13 years. Rather, it has everything to do with these online services compliance with the Children’s Online Safety Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) enacted in the United States of America. COPPA aims to protect the privacy of children under 13 by regulating the collection of their personal information online. Consequently, the majority of social media platforms and online services adhere to COPPA.


Are children younger than 13 using social media and online services?

The reality is large numbers of Australian primary school age children are using a wide range of online services that technically they shouldn’t be accessing. Whilst it would be easy for me to say comply with the age limit this is unlikely to be helpful for many parents.


Whilst I don’t condone circumventing the age limit, I do think we need to take a more nuanced approach to this. One that doesn’t shame, blame or offer no assistance to those who find themselves having to manage a plethora of issues. In the digital age that we live in, I think parents are between a rock and a hard place and perhaps some feel like they are in an impossible situation.


If you can comply with the age limit please do so, or get as close to the age limit as possible before you say yes, give your child’s developing brain an opportunity to be more online (pardon the pun) so they will be better able to better navigate the wide ranging issues many children and young people face.


What is the 'right' age for children to use social media?

The debate around the appropriate age for social media usage is complex. Striking a balance between the benefits and risks remains a challenge. I’d love to say this is straightforward, but it’s not.


Whether we like it or not access to online services and social media is part of our everyday lives. Whilst concerns about the negative aspects of some online services and social media are valid, there are also positive aspects to consider.


Online services and social media can provide a platform for learning, self-expression, creativity, socialising and connection with peers. It can foster a sense of community, belonging and support positive interactions. Educating young users about safe, respectful, responsible, positive and moderate use is key to maximising these benefits. If a child is in a peer group or year group where the majority are using these services it can lead to the child feeling/being socially isolated and excluded, and this can impact their health, wellbeing and personal safety.


Even if your child is 13 years of age and able to create an account without lying and providing incorrect information it doesn’t mean the online service will be any safer or more suitable for your child. I have been saying for nearly 10 years that many of the online services our children are using is ‘too much, too soon.’


The age that’s right for your child will depend on a range of factors, including but not limited to;

  • Chronological and developmental age

  • Temperament

  • Maturity

  • Interpersonal skills

  • Impulse control and critical reasoning skills

  • Decision making abilities

  • Problem solving abilities

  • Conflict resolution skills

  • Friendship groups

  • Help seeking skills and strategies

  • Learning difficulties, difference and disability


What to consider before you say 'yes'.

When considering if your child is ready to use these online services, there's a range of things that are helpful to consider, including but not limited to;

  • Family Values Each family has its own values and rules regarding technology use. Consider how introducing social media aligns with your family's values.


  • Age  Chronological and developmental age can vary greatly. There is no one-size-fits-all perfect age.

  • Developmental Readiness Cognitive, social and emotional development varies among individuals. Some children may not be equipped to handle the complex social dynamics and emotions associated with social media interactions. Additional consideration may be given to children with a cognitive disability.

  • Maturity Assess whether the child demonstrates responsible behaviour and an understanding of the importance of digital etiquette and safety.

  • Online Safety Children lack the maturity to navigate potential risks like cyberbullying, online predators, and age inappropriate, hurtful, harmful and illegal content, making them more vulnerable to harm.

  • Privacy Children may not fully comprehend the implications of sharing personal information online, posing risks to their privacy and long-term digital footprint.

  • Mental Health Exposure to social media at a young age can contribute to issues like low self-esteem, body image concerns and a constant need for validation, potentially affecting mental well-being.

  • Distraction from Real-Life Activities Excessive time spent online can interfere with crucial real-world activities such as schoolwork, physical activities and face-to-face social interactions.

  • Pressure to Conform Social media often promotes certain beauty standards, lifestyles, and trends, leading to potential pressure on young users to conform, which can be detrimental to their self-esteem and individuality.

  • Perspective taking and understanding consequences Children may not fully grasp the long-term consequences of their online actions, such as the impact of sharing inappropriate content or engaging in hurtful, harmful and unsafe online behaviours.

  • Influence of Online Communities Children may be influenced by online communities that promote harmful behaviours or ideologies, impacting their values and beliefs during a crucial stage of development.

  • Educational Distractions Social media can be a source of distraction, potentially affecting academic performance and hindering the development of essential skills needed for future success.

  • Unhealthy habits Social media platforms are designed to be engaging, and young users might be more susceptible to developing unhealthy habits and behaviours, negatively impacting their overall lifestyle.


Protective Parenting: Minimising harm

I can't emphasis enough the importance of parental involvement as a protective factor. Parents play a pivotal role in guiding and supporting their children to develop the social, emotional and relational skills needed for safe, positive and respectful experiences.


Setting and clearly communication boundaries and expectations, engaging in ongoing age and developmentally appropriate supervision, education, conversation and participation can support our children to thrive online and mitigate potential risks.


Modelling and encouraging a healthy balance between online and offline activities is essential for overall wellbeing. Promoting digital literacy can contribute to safer and more positive online experiences for children.


Monitoring online activities, implementing effective parental controls when combined with a balanced approach that includes both technological safeguards and ongoing communication is vital.


Open communication between parents and children is important. I encourage parents to actively engage in conversations with their children about what they love doing online, responsible technology use, online safety, and the potential risks associated with the digital world. Educating children on making informed decisions and cultivating a sense of digital responsibility and resilience is crucial.

It's not all, or nothing

The introduction of social media marks a significant stage in their development. It represents not only a technological milestone but also a transition toward increased independence, autonomy and responsibility. Balancing the excitement and possibilities social media brings with clear guidelines, online behaviour expectations, open communication and supervision is crucial. Introducing social media requires thoughtful consideration and remember, it's not all, or nothing. I recommend a gradual approach, consider this your child's training wheels time. For example to begin use MessengerKids and TikToks Family Pairing.


Specific social media considerations

There are so many different social media platforms and online services. Some of the most commonly used platforms are TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Discord. We have a responsibility to understand what we can do and how we can support our children to minimise risk on each platform. For example:


  • Is Screen Time Management available

  • Is there a Restricted Mode to limit age inappropriate content

  • Direct Messages - can you turn off direct messaging

  • Language and emoji filter - can you filter specific language and emoji's

  • Comments - can you turn them off, hide and/or filter them

  • Blocking & Reporting - can you do it, how does it work and what else can you do if it doesn't work.

  • Can you restrict how much personal data the app has access to.

  • Can you turn off location services.

  • Advertisements - can you hide, report or adjust how they are shown


Family Technology Plan

A family technology plan is a set of guidelines and rules that are agreed upon by family members to establish healthy habits and safe technology use. It is designed to support families manage and regulate the use of technology within the home, and to ensure that everyone in the household understands the expectations and responsibilities associated with the use of technology.


Visit the eSafeKids Members' Community to download a Family Technology Plan guide.


Parental Controls

Parental control tools play a role in creating safer digital environments and experiences for children. They allow parents to set boundaries and monitor online activities, promoting responsible and age-appropriate use of technology. These free and paid tools can assist to monitor, restrict, limit and filter what children do and see online. They offer a range of customisations and restrictions. These tools allow parents to tailor the controls to their child's specific needs and gradually increase independence as the child matures.


Read eSafeKids Blog: Parental Controls for more detailed information.


A final thought

When I reflect on the thousands of conversations I've had with parents over the years something stands out. I've had thousands of parents tell me they wish they'd delayed access to social media and other online services. Never once has a parent told me they wish they'd given access sooner or earlier.


Further information

You may like to read the following eSafeKids Blogs:



To learn more about eSafeKids workshops and training visit our services page.


To view our wide range of child friendly resources visit our online shop.


Join the free eSafeKids online Members' Community. It has been created to support and inspire you in your home, school, organisation and/or community setting.


About The Author

Kayelene Kerr is recognised as one of Western Australia’s most experienced specialist providers of Protective Behaviours, Body Safety, Cyber Safety, Digital Wellness and Pornography education workshops. Kayelene is passionate about the prevention of child abuse and sexual exploitation, drawing on over 27 years’ experience of study and law enforcement, investigating sexual crimes, including technology facilitated crimes. Kayelene delivers engaging and sought after prevention education workshops to educate, equip and empower children and young people, and to help support parents, carers, educators and other professionals. Kayelene believes protecting children from harm is a shared responsibility and everyone can play a role in the care, safety and protection of children. Kayelene aims to inspire the trusted adults in children’s lives to tackle sometimes challenging topics.


About eSafeKids

eSafeKids strives to reduce and prevent harm through proactive prevention education, supporting and inspiring parents, carers, educators and other professionals to talk with children, young people and vulnerable adults about protective behaviours, body safety, cyber safety, digital wellness and pornography. eSafeKids is based in Perth, Western Australia.


eSafeKids provides books and resources to teach children about social and emotional intelligence, resilience, empathy, gender equality, consent, body safety, protective behaviours, cyber safety, digital wellness, media literacy, puberty and pornography.


eSafeKids books can support educators teaching protective behaviours and child abuse prevention education that aligns with the Western Australian Curriculum, Australian Curriculum, Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and National Quality Framework: National Quality Standards (NQS).


Cyber Safety Perth


Comments


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