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Friday, April 19, 2024

Social media has created a virtual playground, but it’s not a safe space

Adults can help children navigate this social realm rather than criticize how they are being influenced


It may be difficult to remember a time when entertainment came from something other than electronics. But before free time was taken up by scrolling on TikTok or playing several hours of video games, people spent more time doing hobbies in physical spaces: knitting, playing soccer or cooking, for example. 

Now, we’re experiencing a time in which our average amount of daily internet exposure is rapidly increasing, while the onset age of internet exposure is decreasing — a phenomenon sometimes called “the iPad kid” era. 

While social media has created an interconnected information platform, and some would say has even built communities, social media also has many negative effects, especially on the younger generation. 

Many social media platforms require users to be above the age of 13 to activate their profiles, but studies show that 40% of children using social media are between eight and 12 years old. Another study highlights that children younger than eleven years old using social media have a greater chance of taking part in online harassment, are more likely to only have online friends and are more likely to exhibit problematic internet usage. 

Along with changes to their online behavior, social media consumption clearly impacts kids’ behavior in real-world settings as well. We see the effects of this in recent trends, like TikTok’s “Sephora kids,” who purchase expensive makeup products that they’ve seen older influencers using. Kids record their in-depth skincare routines and review the products they are using. These mini influencers have been spotted all over TikTok explore pages with their hauls racking up millions of views. 

Searching the hashtag “10-year-olds at Sephora” reveals a multitude of videos on the phenomenon, in part made by concerned adults harshly judging the kids. Instead of simply criticizing a twelve-year-old for wanting “anti-aging” skincare, adults and parents should recognize that kids’ desire to be “cool” has always existed. Years ago, kids wanted Silly Bandz and Eos lip balm. Now, kids have a more expensive laundry list: Drunk Elephant products, Dior lip oils and more, all influenced by internet advertising. Knowing that kids are still learning to navigate social media, adults should grant them a little more grace, understanding that kids are exposed to social media pressures in the same way that all of us are. The key difference is that these pressures introduce them to the desire to change themselves from a much earlier age before they have the maturity to discern which products are worth the investment and which ones are just well-advertised.

However, the TikTok trend has caused some kids to make a scene when out at their local makeup stores, including Sephora, even by rummaging through tester products and being disrespectful to store employees. 

When social media trends are translating to rude behavior in the real world, it’s a problem — and if it’s revealing larger issues with how the internet has changed our social standards, we need to work together to find a way to change the culture we’ve created. To start, parents of young social media users should have a conversation with their kids regarding the uses of social media as well as boundaries for general internet usage. 

As for college students, having access to social media comes with an obligation to be conscious about how you are interacting with other users, especially younger ones. With this in mind, it is important for adults to be careful about what they are saying about children online, even when they perceive kids as behaving inappropriately. 

Finding an alternative space for entertainment that promotes healthier values such as camaraderie and in-person interaction with one another can benefit both children and us much more than an Explore page can. This could be climbing trees, biking around the neighborhood or joining a sports team. 

This is not to say that children should have zero access to social media, but instead that there is a healthy way to use these platforms responsibly. While we wait for regulation that better protects kids on the internet and allows us to better filter what we see online, being conscious of online actions allows us to use these platforms to learn about skincare or message with friends without falling victim to blind consumerism and losing basic social skills. 

Written by: The Editorial Board


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