As a child of the 80s, I remember my pre-teen years as consisting of riding my bike, reading Archie and Asterix comic books, and spending a little time on the computer playing Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego and Prince of Persia, in all of their 2D pixelated glory.
At the risk of sounding like an old grouch, a new study conducted by AVG shows just how much times have changed, with children reaching a digital maturity at around 11 years old. Now this figure shouldn’t come as a surprise. I’ve watched my 5-year-old niece find her way to her favourite games on my iPad in the blink of an eye. What’s interesting, however, is that part of digital maturity for pre-teens inevitably involves social networks.
Digital maturity, or adulthood as AVG puts it, involves far more than a few computer (or in today’s case, iPad) games. At the age of 11, a lot of kids in the US, UK, Canada, France, Australia and New Zealand are finding their way onto social networks like Facebook and Twitter. In Germany that leap is made around the age of 12, while in Spain and Italy, it comes a couple of years earlier at 10.
It’s worth noting that this figure doesn’t apply to all kids across the board. In fact, in a survey of 4,000 parents of children aged 10 to 13, saw about 58% admitting that their children were on major social networks – with their knowledge.
The one country included in the survey that saw significantly low percentages of pre-teens was Japan, with a minuscule average of 9% of pre-teens getting in on the social network scene.
The minimum sign-up age on Facebook is 13, and of the 58% parents who admitted that their kids are active on social networks, 60% of them monitor what their kids are up to, and two thirds say that they know their childrens’ passwords. But with social media practically hard wired into just about every smartphone under the sun, monitoring probably becomes a more challenging task with 56% of American pre-teens, and a 44% average for all countries, accessing Facebook and Twitter using their phones.
In general, maturity seems to come to kids far earlier than it used to, so is it only a sign of the times that their online activity would be a natural part of that? Even when we’re not at our computers – we’re constantly bombarded with reminders of the social media world that exists just a button-click away. Social media is in our news, on our billboards, and in our TV shows. Hearing a mention of Twitter on a prime time TV show or hearing a reporter reminding viewers to keep up with the rest of the story on Facebook is now commonplace. The question is should we expect a younger generation to adhere to minimum age requirements?
In fact, according to one teenager, Google+’s minimum age requirement of 18 was incredibly short sighted of the company, but she does point to Facebook as the preferred model with its 13-year-old minimum, so where does that leave those a couple of years younger?
Online predators, phishing scams, and viruses are all very obvious threats that exist in the online world, and the one site that seems most prone to every scam under the sun is Facebook. In fact, today’s situation which apparently sees Facebook awash with porn and violent images speaks of a need to control how and when children can access social networks.
One thing is for sure – there is definitely a huge pre-teen user base on Twitter, the one major social network without a minimum age requirement, since apparently they can get anything Bieber related to trend at the drop of a hat. And some might say that alone is reason enough for a properly enforced minimum age requirement on social networks.