Too young for tech: Social media age limits

Posted at 1:33 PM, Feb 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-25 11:29:37-05
GREEN BAY, WI -- From cyber bullying, to online predators, the world of social media has opened some dangerous doors for our teens, and children.
Age restrictions are in place for a reason, but should they be raised by law? And what challenges with new social media laws likely face?
The European Union recently shot down a proposal for its member states to raise the social media age limit to 16.
Here, in the US, the vast majority of social media websites and apps have an age restriction of 13 or younger.
But some would argue that today's average teenager doesn't always understand the very real consequences of certain choices on social media.
As superintendent of the Sevastopol School District, Linda Underwood sees students at their best.
"When they're making great decisions, when they're really engaged," says Underwood. 
She also often sees them buckling under social pressures, making poor, knee-jerk decisions toward one another, "which is what happens when you are a kid," Underwood adds.
Underwood says those decisions have been amplified by the world of social media.
"Things are said in postings that would never be said face-to-face," says Underwood.
And it can make physical bullying worse.
Last year, the Door County Sheriff's Department had to investigate an alleged incident of bullying caught, and shared, on Snapchat.
Deputies say two students could be seen pushing an older student, with special needs, into lockers.
"I think that people who are younger, who have grown up having access to that growing technology, take it for granted," says Underwood. "Young people share more on Facebook and Twitter in a week than many families share on their annual Christmas letter."
Cyberbullying is a growing concern. The Cyberbullying Research Center says 48 of 50 states include electronic harassment within their current bullying legislation. 24 states specifically use the phrase "cyberbullying."
"The cyber world is limitless," says online security expert Curt Esser, "it doesn't have boundaries."
Esser says there's another growing threat: online predators, who use social media's anonymity, and convenient pic-sharing apps to entice teens, are also on the rise.
The FBI says 46% of kids 10-17 admit to giving out personal information to someone they don't know online.
"Teenagers… don't realize that they need to fear certain things," adds Esser.
But when it comes to any federal, or state law enforcing higher age restrictions on social media, Esser says it's tricky.
"What if the user's account was hacked," asks Esser, "or, what if the users lied at signup?"
Esser says many teens already admit to lying about their age online to gain access to restricted sites. 
"Kids are getting much better, much smarter," says Esser, "and they're able to circumvent some of those things." 
Blanket age restriction laws would also require all social media sites to be on board, which experts say isn't likely.
"There is an argument that it should be a parent's decision to control what access his or her children have," says Underwood.
In the end, the most power to decide what our kids have access to is in our own hands.
"Parents have an obligation to parent," says Esser.
"I think we'd be much better off spending that money helping schools and parents teach kids how to make good decision about what they're putting out, and what they're accessing," says Underwood.
As for the two states that don't include electronic harassment within their current bullying legislation, they're Alaska and Wisconsin.
We've added a list of some of the latest social media websites, and apps, that parents should know about:
(As defined by Wikipedia)
Facebook - Registered users can create a user profile, add other users as "friends", exchange messages, post status updates and photos, share videos, use various apps and receive notifications when others update their profiles.
Twitter - An online social networking service that enables users to send and read short 140-character messages called "tweets". Registered users can read and post tweets, but those who are unregistered can only read them. 
Snapchat - Using the application, users can take photos, record videos, add a filter, "Lens", text, or sketch overlay, and send them to a controlled list of recipients. These sent photographs and videos are known as "Snaps". Users set a time limit for how long recipients can view their Snaps (as of September 2015, the range is from 1 to 10 seconds), after which Snapchat claims they will be deleted from the company's servers.
Instagram - Instagram is an online mobile photo-sharing, video-sharing, and social networking service that enables its users to take pictures and videos, and share them either publicly or privately on the app, as well as through a variety of other social networking platforms.
Vine - A short-form video sharing service where users can share six-second-long looping video clips. Vine's app can also be used to browse through videos posted by other users, along with groups of videos by theme, and trending, or popular, videos.
WhatsApp - A proprietary cross-platform instant messaging client for smartphones. It uses the Internet to send text messages, images, video, user location and audio media messages to other users using standard cellular mobile numbers.
Kik - Uses a smartphone's data plan or Wi-Fi to transmit and receive messages, photos, videos, sketches, mobile webpages, and other content after users register a username. Kik is known for its features preserving users' anonymity, such as allowing users to register without providing a telephone number, and preventing users from being located on the service (including by the company itself) through any information other than their chosen username.