What’s the right age to allow a child to start using social media like Facebook? While a lot of parents permit young children to log on, experts agree that’s a bad idea. Recently, a 13-year-old girl in California was raped and murdered by a man she met on social media.
Think your kids would know better than to be lured away? How to you know if they’re old enough to go online? We look at the problems and offer some guidelines.
Crackdown on Underage Users
Nobody under 13 should use Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or Twitter. Might sound like a bold statement, but that’s the minimum age those platforms set for joining.
The only way a child can join is to lie about their birthday. If the platform catches your kid lying, they’ll yank their account. Some kids get away with it for a long time but a lot more get caught.
Back in 2018, Facebook and Instagram decided to crack down on underage users. Previously, they investigated accounts if someone reported underage use. Now they proactively use programs to search for kids under the age of 13. The programs scan content and photos to get an idea of how old the user really is. If they suspect the account belongs to a child, Facebook will ask for a copy of your identification.
Why the crackdown? Don’t they want the customers? They don’t want the liability associated with the dangers of someone that young using their platform.
Even if you think your kid is mature enough to handle it, I’d suggest you not set the example that breaking the rules of the site is a good idea. If you don’t have to follow the age rules, why follow any of them?
Ready At 13?
That doesn’t mean all 13-year-olds are ready for social media. It’s a big, bad world out there and kids’ do not yet have fully-formed brains.
Here’s my rule of thumb. Do you think your kid is capable of getting on a bus and going across town alone? Or even better, getting on the subway in New York City and going across town alone?
Like social media, the subway is full of mostly nice people with good intentions, and a few bad ones. Would your kid know not to be led astray by strangers? Could he think well enough to resist any temptations that might come into his path? Is she experienced enough to know to go for help if something that makes her uncomfortable happens?
Because when you unleash a kid on social media, you are putting them on a subway car with a world full of people who can easily pretend to be anyone or anything. And while most people on social media are okay humans, some of them are professional creepers who specialize in targeting kids. And it’s not just bad adults. Kids can be mean. Even meaner with the anonymity that social media provides. Kids can also be sensitive to meanness. Opportunities to bully others or be bullied shoot up because everyone in the world is coming home with you every night.
Studies show that children bullied online are twice as likely to attempt to harm themselves.
Facebook and other social media are also favorite tools of human traffickers. Sex Traffickers are experts at social media and know how to look online for the right targets. Human Trafficking expert Rhiannon Gill said, “They generally look for the teenagers and children who have profiles that unknowingly are screaming for attention. Girls who don’t seem confident, who complain of their home life being bad, or hating a parent online. They will act as a friend for weeks and months to lure them in.”
Traffickers pressure kids until they agree to send sexually explicit videos or photos of themselves and then later blackmailed with the threat of the images being made public.
And it’s not just teen girls who are targeted by these predators. Troubled boys, especially those who are gay or transgender, are also targeted. Remember, it’s a business. They are an in-demand product in some circles.
Worst Case Scenarios
The list of children killed by predators who lured them away with social media is a long one. Here are just a few examples.
Sabriya McLean, 15, of New Castle, Delaware was stabbed 80 times, and her body set on fire by a man she met on Facebook.
Patricia Alatorre, 13, of Bakersfield California was raped and murdered by a 24-year-old man she met on social media.
Alisho Hassan, 28, of Memphis, drugged and raped a 13-year-old he met through Facebook.
Bianca Devins,17, of Utica, was killed by a 21-year-old she met on Instagram. He murdered her and posted photos of her body to Instagram.