A generation of children is growing up with social media and the ‘like’ button and there’s growing concern about the toll that’s taking on young minds. 

Although social media apps can be an important tool for connection, they’re also being blamed for exposing children and teens to appalling cyberbullying, viral self-harm dares, sextortion threats, and content promoting distorted ideals around body image.  

Raising the social media age limit 

The combined negative impacts of social media have prompted calls for children to be restricted from using online platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Tik Tok until the age of 16. 

It’s a call backed by leading cybersafety educator Brett Lee – who sat down with us for our latest Life Ed Podcast, Social media ~ what every parent needs to know. 

A former detective who investigated child exploitation online, Brett says keeping kids off social media for longer would be a game changer. 

“If your child, between 13, 14 and 15, isn’t on social media, you’ve almost reduced the risk to nearly zero that any issues are going to affect your child at a very vulnerable stage in their life,” Brett says. 

“If we could normalise in our community that children who are 13, 14 and 15 don’t use social media, the effects are going to be incredible. They would flow on to every aspect of our lives – not only schools, but at home when it comes to health and relationships … and that all flows through to mental health. It would take a lot of pressure off parents, who currently feel that ‘this is me making this decision’ … because it would be enshrined in legislation.”  

Keeping kids safe online 

Brett believes that along with tech time limits, communication is the most effective online safety strategy a parent can have.  

It’s important for parents to find out who their child is communicating with and be clear about rules and boundaries, including deciding which programs, apps and websites they can use, and when.  

“I don’t need my kids to like wearing a seatbelt; you just do that, and I’m very empowered as a parent to play that role because I know that’s just what you do,” Brett says.  

“Likewise, we need to know that when we play the role of a parent and we manage and take control of technology, that the benefits we’re getting from that are just as great as the benefits we get when we play that safety role in the physical world,” Brett says.  

Here are Brett’s top tips for parents to ensure their child’s online safety: 

  1. Stay up to date with what kids are doing by having conversations with your children, with their school and with friends.
  2. Utilise the website – Commonsense Media which rates and reviews programs, apps, games and movies so that parents can assess their suitability for children.
  3. Use parental controls. Parents can supervise their child or teen’s experience on their Chromebook with Google’s Family Link which provides built-in controls. This allows you to filter or block explicit content, keep an eye on what apps your child is using and even lock devices when it’s time to relax, study or sleep. Similarly, Apple’s Family Sharing can also give parents a better understanding of how much time kids are spending on apps, websites and their devices overall.
  4. Brett suggests that parents type the words – ‘filtering and monitoring software’ and ‘parental controls’ into Google or other search bars to find more information about available security programs.
  5. Be the one who makes the final decisions around technology. 

** This Life Ed Podcast includes some discussion about cyberbullying,  suicide, self-harm and sextortion. If you or a family member needs support, contact Lifeline 13 11 14, Kids Helpline 1800 551 800 or the eSafety Commissioner 

Related articles