The results of a new study suggest that using Instagram or Snapchat before the age of 11 was significantly linked to more problematic digital behaviors compared to those who joined these platforms when they were older.
The study published in Computers in Human Behavior also found that parental restrictions on phone use and social media checking improved some of the negative effects.
“Social media sites all require a minimum age of 13 to join, but the reality is that many users are younger than that: a third of our sample had already started using social media at 11 or 12. years and another third started at age 10 or younger, ”said lead author of the study Linda Charmaraman, PhD, director of the Youth, Media and Well-Being Research Lab of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW). “This study helps us understand the risks and benefits for children and preteens so that parents and policy makers can make decisions that put their well-being first.”
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Charmaraman and his co-authors surveyed 773 middle school students in the northeastern United States about their social media initiation, digital behaviors, and parental restrictions on digital use. Researchers found that joining social media platforms like Instagram or Snapchat before the age of 11 was significantly associated with having friends online or joining social media sites that parents would disapprove of, behaviors of more problematic digital technology, more unfriendly online behaviors and a greater likelihood of online harassment and sexual harassment victimization. Some of these effects were mitigated when parents restricted phone use and limited how often their children viewed social media.
However, the news wasn’t all bad: The researchers also found that, regardless of when they joined social media, young teens engaged in positive digital behaviors more frequently than negative. And those who joined social media as a child (aged 10 or younger) showed a greater tendency to engage in online community behaviors of support or civic engagement, such as posting on supportive social media. social, raising awareness of social issues or organizing events through social networks. media – compared to those who joined later. This may be due to being socialized at a younger age to understand both the positive and negative potential of different platforms.
“These results suggest that the minimum age of 13 for social media users can potentially be a good standard if it can be enforced,” Charmaraman said. “The results also suggest that a potential strategy to support families with children, tweens and teens is to a) keep track of social media sites reached and networks of friends online; b) define even one rule regarding the use of the screen (ie school evenings); and c) monitor how often children are checked in, especially if they are using social media at the age of 10 and under. “
Charmaraman and his research team are also working on a study to determine whether the age at which users join social media has long-term effects on their health and well-being.
This article was co-authored by Alicia Doyle Lynch, PhD, Founder of Lynch Research Associates, Amanda M. Richer, MA, Research Associate and Assistant Methodologist at WCW, and Jennifer M. Grossman, PhD, Senior Scientist at the WCW.
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