New research indicates that children are ignoring social media age restrictions and setting up their social media accounts on these platforms. By taking this action, vulnerable young people are comprising their online safety and exposing themselves to cyber-bullying and inappropriate material.

Age limits for social media accounts

According to Net Nanny, a parenting information site, most social media sites have age restrictions; users must be a certain age to create an account. This is to protect children’s personal information and safeguard their online safety.

Most of the popular social media sites set their age limits at 13. You must be this age in order to create an account on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest, Snapchat and Instagram, while the age limits for WhatsApp and Vine are 16 and 17 respectively.

However, these sites depend on users submitting their real date of birth when creating an account to enforce these restrictions. By changing the year of their birth when they register, children can bypass age limits to create social media accounts.

Bypassing restrictions

Social media sites do try to weed out underage profiles. Facebook, for example, will delete an account belonging to someone who’s under 13 when it’s flagged, while Instagram asks people to report underage accounts.

However, new research from the BBC’s Newsround programme has found that efforts to delete underage social media accounts aren’t working.

Newsround learned that three quarters of UK children aged 10 – 12 have social media accounts.

Meanwhile, Facebook is the most popular social media site with under 13’s, followed by Instagram. Shockingly, 20% of 1,000 children aged 10 – 18 polled by Newsround said they’ve experienced cyber-bullying, but still believe that social media is an important part of their everyday life.

Online safety

Also 25% of 16 – 18 year olds admitted to sending “rude” or “unkind” posts to other people on networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook.

Separate research from ChildLine, a UK advice charity for young people, found that cyberbullying on social media has a profoundly negative effect on children’s wellbeing. Consequently, their counselling session for young people rose from 23,530 in 1986/1987 to 286,812 in 2014/2015.

Commenting on the Newsround research, UK Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said: “We [the government] are working hard to make the web a safer place for children but we can’t do it alone and parents have a vital role to play in educating young people.”

If you want to ensure your children remain safe online we’d suggest you look at Igniyte’s Guide to Managing Your Teenager’s Personal Information Online. Here we provide you with the advice you need to ensure your teenager uses the internet productively and prioritises online safety when utilising social media.

Dealing with cyber-bullying

As well as teaching them about the dangers of the internet and how to utilise social media safely, you should take several steps to ensure that your children remain safe online. These are:

  • Restricting personal information: Don’t let your children include personal information e.g. address, phone number, when creating a social media account.
  • Thinking about location: Your child can easily reveal their location alongside a social media status or tweet, compromising their online safety. Ensure your child turns off their location settings when using social media, so their location remains confidential.
  • Safeguarding images: You should make sure that your child sets photo albums and image uploads to ‘friends only.’ This’ll ensure that people who don’t know your child can’t see their images online and use them to put their online safety at risk.
  • Utilising privacy settings: Most social media sites have privacy settings; make sure your child utilises them, so only certain people are allowed to see their personal information. For example your child’s Facebook account should be set to ‘friends only.’

Sometimes you can take all the necessary precautions and your child may still be bullied online. If this happens it’s vital you know how to deal with inappropriate/unwanted comments to safeguard your child’s safety online:

  • Report the content: Start by reporting the cyber-bullying to the relevant social media site. You can complete online forms on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to report cyber-bullying and the site will take it from there.
  • Prevent further contact: Next, stop the problem from getting worse by preventing the cyber-bully from contacting your child. On every social media account your child uses delete or block the person in question, so they can no longer post unwanted content concerning your child.
  • Keep evidence: It’s vital that you keep any evidence of cyber-bullying concerning your child, so you can cite it if the problem continues and you need to report it again. Here it’s advisable to make print screens of your child’s social media messages, images and conversations.

Download this guide provided by Igniyte if you require further assistance in managing your teenager online.

Protect your child

Social media sites may have age restrictions, but when have young people ever followed the rules? Children are creating social media accounts and exposing themselves to cyber-bullying. As a parent, you need to ensure that children adhere to age restrictions and use social media responsibly so they remain safe online.

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