Most major social media outlets, including Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram, allow users who are aged 13 and older to join their platforms.
Even though 13-year-olds can sign up for accounts, whether they should is a different question. On Sunday, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told CNN that he believes age 13 is too young to be on social media.
University of Michigan data from 2021 indicate that many children have social media accounts before reaching 13. According to a survey conducted by the University of Michigan, 49% of parents of children ages 10-12 report their kids having social media accounts.
With so many children online, Sarah Clark, a research scientist in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Michigan, questions whether it is realistic to ask parents to outright ban their children from social media. Instead, she encourages setting parameters to promote safe social media usage.
“I get that there is a desire to protect kids by a shut-it-down approach and I am not positive it is realistic,” Clark said. “Something that could be more realistic at least for some families is to use strategies that limit it.”
Clark and her team found that one in six parents of children ages 7-12 with social media accounts did not utilize parental controls.
“They are a start to putting some limitations on usage,” Clark said. “Whether they are time limits or watching certain sites, but they are not the only thing. What I hope the use of parental controls leads to is a conversation between parents and teens and preteens about what are we doing here, including parents educating themselves more about what the risks are.”
Clark recognizes that there are some benefits to social media. She said social media was an outlet for many children during the pandemic during a period of isolation. She also notes that it can be a source of useful information.
“It is increasingly difficult not to engage on social media at all,” Clark said. “In a lot of situations, there are a lot of positives to it, so it is hard to see where that line is because there is a viewpoint where kids are spending too much time on it or they’re going into more dangerous territory whether it’s cyberbullying or the places where people are discussing eat disorder strategies. There are less positive subjects that are out there.”
But when kids reach those depths of social media, it can cause harm.
Research published earlier this month indicates children who habitually sign onto social media at age 12 can see a change in their brain’s sensitivity to social rewards and punishments.
Overuse of social media usage by teenagers has been associated with high levels of depression and anxiety, the Mayo Clinic noted.
Murthy recommends parents try to keep their kids from joining social media platforms until closer to adulthood.
"If parents can band together and say, you know, as a group, we're not going to allow our kids to use social media until 16 or 17 or 18 or whatever age they choose, that's a much more effective strategy in making sure your kids don't get exposed to harm early," he told CNN.
Clark has different advice.
“I think show everybody grace; this is tough,” she said.