• Tue, Sep 2 - 8:35 am ET

Your 11-Year-Old Should Not Be On Instagram

shocked-little-boy-at-laptopSocial media is part of our lives now. Every day, most of us will navigate a series of choices what to say online and how to say it; sometimes the existence of a second Internet life seems odd to those of us who grew up even before dial-up modems, Juno email addresses, and endless AOL Online CDs arriving in the mail. For our kids, though, an online life is always going to be part of their world; which means that somehow, we have to teach our kids to navigate safely through an iLandscape that didn’t exist when we were their age. Internet safety for kids should start at home with some learner’s permit-style social media access supervised by a parent. And that includes helping kids understand and obey the Terms of Service social websites operate under.

Australian writer Kylie Ladd says that her 11-year-old daughter is allowed to use both Instagram and Kik under her supervision, despite the TOS for both sites requiring users to be 13+, a rule she seems to be aware she’s flaunting:

I absolutely agree that it’s important to be teaching pre-teens cyber-safety skills, and I also agree that unrestricted, unmonitored access to social media is a bad idea for kids who aren’t that far past having learned to tie their shoelaces. What I don’t agree with, however, is that it should be banned altogether until the magic age of 13, when the keys to the kingdom (or Facebook at least) are handed over.

I agree that no one should just let their 13-year-old make a Facebook on her birthday and then just walk away, no more than they should toss a newly minted 16-year-old the keys to the minivan and say, “Have fun!” But paying heed to the Terms of Service on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and all the rest is part of the learning that’s supposed to go on, and teaching kids that they’re above the rules because they really want to doesn’t do anyone any favors. The “no littles allowed” rule isn’t one that social media websites made up just to be mean, after all. The rule comes down from a federal law, COPPA, and social media sites take it seriously:

You have to be at least 13 years old to use Tumblr. We’re serious: it’s a hard rule, based on U.S. federal and state legislation. “But I’m, like, 12.9 years old!” you plead. Nope, sorry. If you’re younger than 13, don’t use Tumblr. Ask your parents for a Playstation 4, or try books.

Websites designed for kids under 13 to access social media exist: Kidzworld, Yoursphere, and others. They’re the training wheels of the social media world, and they’re monitored carefully to keep them safe and appropriate for the age set they’re marketed to. There is some nasty stuff on Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr (oh my god, Tumblr). Ladd mentions being taken aback by pictures of girls her son’s age in bikinis, but I’m pretty sure there are a few worse things out there than selfies. By all means, let your kids how use social media, supervise their use of it, and teach them how to do it safely. Would you teach your kid that it’s okay to pass in a no-passing zone if they think no one’s looking? Even if they really want to and the other kids are doing it? Then teach them how to use social media responsibly and age-appropriately.

(Image: Vladimir Nikitin/Shutterstock)

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  • JJ

    If other parents want their kids to have instagrams and Facebooks I won’t stop them since its not really my kid to worry about. BUT I will laugh my ass of when the parents go on to complain that the page got taken down because the kid was underage and in some cases a baby (like the baby Facebook pages some people make). I remember my own friends did that with their daughter on Facebook as a baby, made her a page just for her while lying about her birthday, until one day the Facebook people found it and deleted it. My friends were pissed off I just thought it was kind of hilarious because there daughter was a few months old and incapable of consenting to the page. She clearly was not over the age 13 or older. Unless all 13 year olds wear diapers, wear onsies and play on jolly jumpers.

    • brebay

      My son’s THIRD GRADE teacher was accepting friend requests from her students, because “Well it’s up to their parents, not me.” Uh, no. You know they lied, cheated, and broke the rules, but you’re not their mother so you’ll just go along with it? I had to speak to the principal about this one, and, even after the principal told her to unfriend them all, she still couldn’t understand why, and bitched about it ON her FB post later…millennials as teachers…it’s not going to get better. (yes, generalizing, no, not all of them, yes, most of the ones I know.)

    • C.J.

      Teachers here aren’t allowed to friend their students even if they are old enough to be on facebook. I don’t know why a teacher would even want to be friends with a student.

    • Spongeworthy

      What? Why would you want to friend any of your current students, let alone 3rd graders?
      I’ve heard a few teacher friends say that they have set up Facebook groups with some of their students (high school) but they make an account strictly to use for it, and post no personal information. They use it for homework, announcements, etc. I don’t know how useful it is for them, because I don’t teach and I don’t have high school-aged kids, but even that makes more sense than being FB friends with a 3rd grader.

    • I love you awesome sauce

      I am a graduate teaching assistant at a large university, and for the past two years have headed up our new TA orientation (they’re 22-30 year old’s teaching mostly 18-22 year olds). In years past, new folks thought I was crazy for even having to say, “Don’t “friend” a student. You are in a position of power over them, and interacting with them socially is an issue in you being a fair and accurate assessor of their work.” This year? Insane. “What if I am friends with them in real life?”…”Tell the instructor of record and have someone else grade their work.” “Well, what if we become friends? “…”Wait until the semester ends.” Mixing social interactions with education does not end well for anyone involved, be they 3rd graders with Facebook pages or 20 year old’s.

    • I love you awesome sauce

      And I’m speaking from experience. I just married someone who was my TA in undergrad. While I was in that course, we had a strictly professional relationship. And waited until the semester ended.

    • Amber Leigh Wood

      That’s so strange, my best friend is a school teacher and ended up changing her name so that the kids couldn’t find her, they were grades 5-7 so again under the 13 year mark.
      She was annoyed she had to tell them to stop trying to add her and eventually resulted in the name change, because they didn’t listen, she didn’t want the kids seeing her personal details/ life. Especially photos that parents could deem unprofessional (her drinking/dancing etc)

    • brebay

      Seriously, who wants to have to censor their own page to an 11-year-old appropriate level?

  • whiteroses

    If you’re too young to tie your shoes, too young to see a PG 13 movie, or too young to have a cell phone, you’re too young to use social media.

  • Katherine Handcock

    I really disagree with the messages parents send when they say, “Oh, I know it’s supposed to be age 13 and up, but it’s okay for my kid” – just like when I hear parents say, “Oh, he’s under 7″ to get the cheap admission price somewhere. What that tells kids is that rules and regulations can be flaunted for your convenience, no matter why they are in place.

    The only one I will flex on for my kids are the movie and video game rating systems (G versus PG, and E-6 and E-10, by the way, not PG13, Teen or Mature!) And in those instances, I explain that some parents don’t want their kids to see certain things, so those ratings let parents know what is in a game — but that they are only suggestions, so if Daddy and I look and decide it’s okay for our kids, we’re not breaking rules, we’re considering suggestions and making a choice about what’s right for our family.

    • brebay

      I agree. PG-13 means parental guidance if under 13, not no one under 13 admitted. Facebook’s policy is clear. Even if it’s arbitrary, it’s sending a bad message. Being 21 to drink is pretty random too, but if you give your 16-year-old alcohol, you’re still a shithead.

    • Katherine Handcock

      In Canada, the rule is 19 (or 18 in a few places) to drink in public; however, parents are allowed to give their own children alcohol in their private home (so, yes, they can have a little wine at a family dinner when they’re younger.) So for me, the difference there gets split a bit: yeah, you’re not going to a bar before you’re of legal age, and if I ever find out you have a fake ID we will have a serious talk, but if you want to try drinking/getting drunk, you can do it at home if you really want to. At least then clean, private toilet facilities will be nearby ;-)

      However, I will possibly make one exception: if I found out that teenage kids were planning to get themselves totally drunk, even if it’s against the law, I would rather they do that at my home where I can make sure everyone’s okay. The dividing line for me on that is that I’m not doing that for convenience — it would be much more convenient for me if they got stupid drunk and threw up/broke stuff somewhere else — but for safety. At least at my house, I’ll know everyone will get home safely.

    • brebay

      In America, you can give your own kids alcohol too, in your home, but providing alcohol to OTHER kids (especially minors) is a pretty serious charge, even if you do get them home safely.

    • Katherine Handcock

      Yeah, on the books providing alcohol to minors in this context is fairly serious too. But I knew four fellow students of my high school who drowned after the boat they were using to get to and from the “drinking island” on the lake capsized while they were drunk. I would still provide kids a safe place to drink at my house — supervised — and argue my point, but take the fine if necessary. I can pay a fine; I can’t bring back kids who hurt or killed themselves trying to sneak out to drink.

    • brebay

      I get what you’re saying, just don’t agree. If you know my kid well enough to buy him alcohol, you know him well enough to give me a call and tell me he’s at your house trying to drink. I’d sue you in civil court as well. And here there’s jail time attached for a second offense. And god forbid you fall asleep after you think they’re all asleep and one of them leaves drunk…just…so much liability.

    • Katherine Handcock

      I think this is one where we’ll agree to disagree (although certainly if I knew the parents, I would be talking to them.) I just knew too many people in my high school who found ways to drink by doing really, REALLY unsafe things. The attitude from most parents in the area was, “Ah, kids will be kids – as long as I don’t know about it.” That’s how six boys in their late teens ended up in a boat rated for 350 pounds with no lifejackets in the middle of a lake on a rainy, windy night. There was an average of a death a year at my high school, and most of them related to kids who were drinking.

      Please don’t think I’m an advocate for underage drinking – I’m not, and steps 1 – 152 would be trying to convince my kids’ friends that drinking is not such a fabulous time that it’s worth breaking the law to do it. But if I’m really faced with the choice of letting them drink at my house, potentially getting charged, or letting them go out into a dangerous, unsupervised situation, I couldn’t live with myself if I picked the “safe” way for myself and one of them got hurt.

    • brebay

      “Kids will be kids” is never an appropriate response to kids breaking the law. Contacting the other parent or the police gets you around having to choose between those two options.

  • LadyClodia the Modest Rat

    All of the ages that we have for things are ultimately arbitrary, but as a society we have agreed to follow the rules or face the consequences. And just because your kid wants to do something before they’re old enough doesn’t mean you should let them.

  • LK

    I have an 11 year old neice whose Instagram feed, while I’m sure 1000% tame by all comparisons, is the stuff of my nightmares. Freaking duck faces and a million selfies and then these girls rate each other or something (wha???). I’ve never felt so old and curmundgeonly. And I completely agree, the whole, don’t worry baby, the rules don’t apply to YOU bit does your kid exactly zero favors in the long run.

    • brebay

      Duck face sends me into a rage spiral. IT’S NOT ATTRACTIVE!!! UNLESS YOU’RE INTO A GUY WHO’S INTO DUCKS! In which case, what the fuck is wrong with that guy?

  • Jen TheTit Whipper

    I really just don’t get why young kids who generally aren’t without their parents need to be on social media at all.

  • brebay

    The thing that bothers me is the lesson that it’s okay to break rules if everyone else is or if they’re stupid. These parents allow their children to use fake birthdays to get an account, and then wonder why their kids are cheating in high school. You think they can distinguish between the two? They don’t. How insecure are you as a parent that you think your kids will die or hate you forever if you actually tell them no, no matter how many of their friends are doing it?

  • Alicia

    Both of my kids have been BEGGING for iPhones for well over a year. My son has even asked for an iPad. He’s 10, my daughter is 8. Part of the reason I keep saying no to these things is social media. I don’t have a set age where I think they’ll get or need cell phones or tablets, but I definitely think they don’t need them now. And I’m not even on Instagram, and photography is a major hobby for me. I’m even considering making it a profession. I don’t know… I want them involved in real activities, and outside playing, not sinking into the internet.

    • brebay

      I did eleven, only because they’re home alone after school. You can block a lot of content, and you can search the history remotely, but there are still ways around that. I think talking to them about what’s out there is the best way (but of course I still always snoop.) Also, just because I gave them the phone, doesn’t mean they get to make the rules. It’s not a gift, it’s a tool, and I’m still the parent, so there are strict time limits; basically when I get home, they get plugged in in the kitchen and you get them back in the morning. I think some parents see it as all or nothing, like if you give them the phone, then it’s theirs, and they can use it however they like. Um, no, I still make the rules.

    • chill

      You can also take off internet access and a variety of other things. My kids only play games on theirs and text their friends. We keep an eye on the texts. Plus, in my house, it’s definitely not a daily thing. If I notice that they’ve spent too much time on electronics, they “disappear” for a while.

  • Samantha Escobar

    A while back, I wrote about a study that said there are tons of underage teens on Tinder despite the TOS saying you have to be 18. While dating apps are obvs different than social media, there are rules for a reason and it’s best to take a hard line with it than a soft one, IMO. When I think about how much trouble I got into on the Internet as a kid because I understood it better than my parents…ack, it makes me want to educate my future kids but also monitor them very, very intensely.

  • Jem

    The whole trend of teens doing the “am I ugly?” pictures on Instagram makes me so happy there was no instagram when I was a teenager, let alone 11!

  • tk88

    I don’t even think 13 is necessarily old enough for Facebook. Does anyone remember a mere 8 years ago when Facebook was ONLY for college students? Besides, I’ve seen kids who are maybe 13 or younger but they have themselves listed as 16 or even older. My cousin has had herself listed as 18 for a long time, but she won’t be 18 until November. There’s so much drama, bullying, and insanity that goes on social media. I mean, does anyone think there would be SO MANY suicides due to bullying without social media? Probably not. I wouldn’t let a 13 year old have any social media accounts unless I also had the password. If they changed it I would remove all internet privileges. Anyone who lets their pre-teen child (or younger!) on social media is playing with fire.

  • K2

    I also feel 13 is too young for social media.. I was looking at old 15, 16 year old me posts on FB, and was horrified.. In a ‘how the heck could I ever have been such an idiotic kid’, kind of way. It wasn’t even necessarily ‘bad’ posts.. just.. lame, stupid.. useless.. and whiny/passive-aggressive ;)

    I ended up deactivating that account and creating a new one when I realised I could NOT deal with the idea that people could still potentially see my old posts or comments.

    Worst/funniest part is back then I clearly did NOT think I was being an immature little twit.. ;)

  • Rachel Sea

    I think making 13 the age at which kids are allowed to start using social media is stupid. It’s an age where they have every social incentive to listen to their peers over their parents, and introducing a new privilege, with new rules of social conduct which will certainly vary from their friends’ is just inviting them to ignore what their parents have to say. While I 100% agree that it is not okay to teach kids that breaking a contract is acceptable if you don’t like the contract, I think 11 is so much a more effective age to teach a kid about how to use it that I would just not let them know that we were breaking the TOS.

  • SarahJesness

    A forum website I use gives users an instant ban if they find out the user is under 13. (prior to COPPA rules, they did allow people under 13) Apparently the site can get into trouble if they knowingly allow kids under 13 to use the site.

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