Recently I’ve noticed an increasing number of authors on Facebook asking what social media 12-year-olds use. Writer Jennifer understands the question. These authors want to keep their writing relevant to modern kids by incorporating the methods of communication being used today. I agree. We shouldn’t write contemporary stories for modern kids that are actually set in our historic, low-tech childhoods. Social media and electronic devices are the center of modern kids’ lives.
I am the mother of an 11-year-old. I know which social media platforms Daughter begs for: Snapchat and Musical.ly. She also loves to text, Facetime, and watch YouTube. Her television shows are binge watched on Netflix – not network or cable television. According to her, Facebook is for old people. I’ve never heard her mention Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. Basically, if Mom is using a social media platform, then Daughter isn’t interested. Makes sense – but also makes it more difficult for adult writers to depict authentic modern kid lives.
Mother Jennifer has an entirely different concern when this social media question is asked. Authors asking about a 12-year-old character may actually be writing for the middle grade audience of ages 8 to 12. Kids read up. The sixth grade protagonist with social media could become the role model of a fourth grade reader.
Each parent makes her own decision about when her child is old enough to have an electronic device, which device is age-appropriate, what age restrictions will be set, and what social media will be allowed. These decisions are subjective and vary greatly. The more restrictions set, the less popular that parent will likely be with her kids.
What does not vary: the minimum age limits specified by the social media platforms. To the best of my knowledge, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Muscial.ly all have a minimum age requirement of 13 years old. That means a character must be a young adult to legally have social media. Kids using these social media platforms in the middle grades are either registered under a parent’s name (which may or may not be supervised by that parent) or they are lying about their birthdates to create their own accounts.
As a parent, I took the hard stance that there will be no social media accounts until Daughter meets the minimum age requirement. She can text and Facetime friends she knows in person (though her iTouch and iPad limit her to messaging only other Apple devices). She can watch YouTube (which has no age restriction settings) and Netflix (which has age restriction settings) with regular Mom spot checks of what she’s choosing to watch.
What makes it more difficult for me to hold my ground on this unpopular rule?
- Parents of other kids allowing these social media accounts for much younger kids. (My daughter knows kids who’ve had their own smart phones with every social media platform since they were 9 years old.)
- Books, movies, and shows depicting all middle grade kids having social media accounts. If the cool celebrity middle grade kids have social media, all middle grade kids beg for it, too.
Why did I make this unpopular social media decision? Kids in the middle grades aren’t ready for the dangers of cyber bullying, sexting, online trolls, and childhood posts coming back to haunt them as adult professionals. They’re still navigating in-person friendships and relationships. Some kids do bully in person, but their cruelty escalates online where they may not know their target or have to look that person in the eye. There are also less parents, teachers, or other authority figures monitoring kid behavior online to intervene and discipline bullies.
Kindness and empathy are values best taught and role modeled in person, in the middle grades, before kids are launched into social media cyberspace as young adults.