Looking at social media app use in young children

Social media apps have found a new audience in the many children who now carry a smartphone to keep in touch with parents and want to emulate older siblings and peers. A poll looks at whether they are using it safely.

Many children and teenagers either have or can access a smartphone and tablet, which means lots of time spent using a number of apps. Although social media platforms require a user to be 13 years of age or older, younger children also want to be able to use them, just like their older siblings, cousins, and friends. The newest poll from the C .S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan asked 1030 parents who had at least 1 child in the home that was 7 to 12 years of age about their child’s use of social media apps.1

Parents reported different app use in the group. Among children who were 10 to 12 years of age, 49% had reported social media app use in the previous 6 months; 28% had only used educational apps; and 23% indicated no app usage. Fifty percent of children 7 to 9 years used only educational apps; 32% also used social media apps; and 18% reported no app usage. Roughly one third of the parents stated that their child had been educated on safe use at school. These parents were more likely to indicate their child used social media apps.

There are many factors that can come into play when a parent is deciding whether an app is safe and appropriate for their child. Top aspects included whether the app has parental controls (74%), deemed age appropriate (64%), and needed for school (63%). Parental control features that were used included parental blocks (66%), parental approval needed for new contacts (60%), privacy settings (57%), creating a daily time limit (56%), and requiring a passcode to access certain content in an app. However, 17% of children are using apps without any form of parental control. When asked about the nonuse of parental controls, 21% of the parents said that they couldn’t find information on setting up the controls; 39% find it too time-consuming to monitor use; and 32% stated that their child would just find a way around any form of parental controls.

Discussing their concerns for their child on social media apps, parents worried that their child would share private information and not realize it (69%); encounter a sexual predator (69%); be exposed to adult images or videos (64%); or be unable to differentiate true from false information (63%). When asked specifically about their child, 47% were not confident in their own child’s capability in telling whether another app user was an adult or child. Thirty-one percent of the parents were not confident that their child’s ability to differentiate what’s true from what’s false on social media apps. Parents of children who had been taught safe use in school were more confident about their child’s abilities in both areas.

The poll investigators had 2 recommendations to help better protect children who are just beginning to be exposed to social media. The first is that parental controls are only the start for keeping children safe. Parents should discuss the apps used with children, including asking them how an app works and what content they find funny. They should also look at what their child is posting and who they’re interacting with. To tackle the issue of learning to differentiate between what’s true and false, instruction at school could help give younger children the necessary tools and even offer programs for parents that help explain parental controls.

Reference

1. C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. National Poll on Children's Health: Sharing too soon? children and social media apps. 2021;39(4). Published October 18, 2021. Accessed October 18, 2021 https://mottpoll.org/reports/sharing-too-soon-children-and-social-media-apps