Banning Social Media For Kids Would Be As Dangerous As Banning Sex Education
Australian journalist Emma Alberici told the ABC this week that kids under the age of 16 should be banned from using social media, because 16 is the age of consent, legal marriage, and driving.
That doesn’t make sense to me.
I’m not a scientist, and I can’t present to you my academic research into the effects of social media on young minds. But I can tell you what I see, as a parent.
Yes, social media can be difficult for young minds to manage; which is why we need to teach kids about it, and the best way to do that is through the exposure that they’re getting, anyway.
Because they are getting it, whether we ‘let’ them have accounts, or ban them, or not.
The thing we grown-ups don’t fully appreciate is that social media is more pervasive than we realise; what we think of as social media, like Instagram and Snapchat, is almost old-school now.
New ways for kids to interact online keep popping up all the time, and will continue to do so.
If kids are online, they can access that interaction easily.
My own 12-year-old is part of a WhatsApp class group, where they exchange information; it’s a necessary part of his school life. He also recently told me about a thing called Tik Tok, a video sharing app that the cool kids are using these days -- but most parents I speak to have never even heard of it.
When he explained it, I thought, “what for?”
But that’s the point. The kids want new and more fun ways of interacting online all the time.
That desire isn’t going anywhere. It’s how they feel connected, and get a lot of their information -- just like us adults.
It’s the way of the world, my friends.
Which is why a social media ban on under-16s wouldn’t really be effective in protecting our children from the negatives; but education would be.
Don’t just take my word for it as a mum; Julie Inman Grant, Australian eSafety Commissioner, tweeted in Alberici’s thread, “teaching parents how to enable parental controls is but one basic strategy because we cannot just “set & forget”, particularly in those early years. We have to be engaged in their online lives, as we are their everyday lives”.
Just as we do with another natural desire in life -- sex -- we need to educate our kids about the risks of being online, and self-care strategies. And that starts with open dialogue about the content they’re already looking at -- no matter how much parents think they’re controlling it.
There are many valuable lessons the kids can learn from their experiences online, too. Speaking up for themselves and others, identifying inappropriate expressions, being careful of what they put in writing and distribute, becoming aware that not everyone is what they may seem, and, perhaps most importantly, learning resilience in the face of unkindness.
Being online is a learning opportunity for all of these things -- especially with our support.
These are lessons that perhaps as adults we could do with, too; because it’s not like all people above the age of 16 are automatically better at handling the fickle nature of the social media.
In fact, in some ways, the kids are handling it better than us. We’re underestimating how smart our kids are -- and how far they’ve come since the early days of cyber-bullying.
Recently, my son and a group of his mates witnessed another kid get ‘pantsed’ at lunch. The child who pulled the pants down of an unsuspecting classmate filmed it as he was doing it, and threatened to post it online.
There was immediate action against that threat; the group rallied around the victim, and also told the teachers.
The kids knew right from wrong; and they immediately identified the potential harm that could come from such a video being posted.
Their swift and firm reaction made my heart sing with hope.
It showed to me that this generation is more aware now, than ever before, of what that sort of behaviour means, and of the consequences of ignoring it. More so maybe than we were at the same age.
We have to trust the kids as they navigate a world which is more natural to their childhoods than it was to ours, and give them more credit where they deserve it. Because in many ways, they get this new internet life -- and its future -- better than we do.