New York: Using social media platforms like Instagram or Snapchat before age 11 was significantly related to more problematic digital behaviour compared to those who joined these platforms when they were older, finds a new study.
The study, published in Computers in Human Behavior, showed that joining Instagram or Snapchat before age 11 was significantly associated with having online friends or joining social media sites that parents would disapprove of, more problematic digital technology behaviour, more unsympathetic online behaviour, and greater likelihood of online harassment and sexual harassment victimisation.
However, some of these effects were lessened when parents restricted phone use and limited how often their kids checked social media.
“Social media sites all require a minimum age of 13 to register, but the reality is that many users are younger than that: one-third of our sample had already started using social media at age 11 or 12 and another one-third had begun at age 10 or younger,” said lead author Linda Charmaraman, director of the Youth, Media and Wellbeing Research Lab at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW).
“This study helps us understand the risks and benefits for kids and tweens, so that parents and policymakers can make decisions that prioritise their well being,” she added.
The team surveyed 773 middle schoolers in the Northeast US about their social media initiation, digital behaviour, and parental restrictions on digital use.
The researchers also found that regardless of when they joined social media, early adolescents more frequently engaged in positive digital behaviour than negative ones.
And those who joined social media as children (age 10 or younger) demonstrated a greater tendency to engage in supportive or civically-engaged online community behaviour such as socially supportive social media posts, fostering awareness of social issues, or organising events through social media, compared to those who joined later. This may be due to being socialised at a younger age to understand both the positive and negative potential of different platforms.
“These findings suggest that the industry-based age minimum of 13 for social media users may potentially be a good standard, if it can be enforced,” said Charmaraman.
“The findings also suggest that a potential strategy to support families with children, tweens, and teens is to keep track of social media sites joined and online friend networks; set even one rule about screen use (i.e., limiting duration on school nights); and monitor children’s frequency of checking, particularly if they’re using social media at age 10 and younger.”