May 25, 2023

Empower students to make high-character decisions online: The effects of bypassing social media age restrictions

Recent evidence suggests that students are accessing social media platforms despite age restrictions. In fact, up to a third or more of pre-teens ages 8-12 use social media and video sites, despite the minimum age requirement of 13.  

Enforcing age verification on these platforms poses a challenge due to the ease of entering any age during the sign-up process, without any kind of confirmation process in place. 

Let’s dive in and discover what this means for students and how we can empower students to stay safe online. 

Where does the minimum age come from?

The requirement of a minimum age of 13 years old for various social media companies is based on the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) established in 1998. This legislation mandates platforms to obtain parental consent before gathering personal information from individuals under 13. 

But, users have discovered ways to bypass this restriction, such as providing an inaccurate birthday or simply clicking a button to be approved in the verification process. 

The government’s role in safe social media usage

The increasing number of underage social media accounts has prompted governments across the U.S. and Europe to propose stricter age-verification measures. Lawmakers in various regions, from Salt Lake City to Paris, are advocating for the implementation of age-verification tools and measures that compel platforms like Instagram and TikTok to verify users’ ages during the sign-up process, either with an official ID or even analyzing a user’s face to determine the age. Some legislatures are also considering requirements for parental consent for users below a certain age.

While there is a growing consensus on the need to regulate underage social media usage, the proposed age-verification measures have sparked a debate between child-protection advocates and digital rights groups. Child-protection advocates emphasize the importance of protecting young users from potential harm, whereas digital rights groups express concerns about privacy risks and potential limitations on access to useful information. 

Adam Mosseri, Instagram Chief, wrote that “The reality is that kids are already online,” arguing that social media platforms should work to make age-appropriate products instead of fighting to “verify the age of kids who are too young to have an ID.”

Striking a balance between safeguarding students and respecting privacy rights remains a key consideration in these important discussions.

TSI’s Take

We know that social media is not going away. And now more than ever, it is up to us as educators to empower and equip our students to navigate their social world positively. 

By recognizing the impact of unrestricted access and empowering our students to make high-character decisions about what they’re exposing themselves to online, we can contribute to a safer and more responsible digital landscape for our students. 

Here are a few things you can do to empower your students to make high-character decisions online:

  • Lead discussions in the classroom: Teachers play a pivotal role in empowering students to navigate their digital world responsibly, including emphasizing the importance of age restrictions and the potential risks associated with underage access. Empower your students to navigate tech in the classroom positively with our classroom tech agreement.
  • Collaborate with parents: Teachers can engage parents in discussions about age verification and encourage their involvement in monitoring their child’s online activities. Download our Family Social Standards Agreement to create a healthy online culture!
  • Stay up-to-date: By staying informed about age-verification initiatives, teachers can promote a safe and healthy online environment that supports student well-being. For more information on how to handle student data and privacy, check out our recent School Playbook.

Want to learn more about how you can empower your students to make high-character decisions online and offline? Check out our free downloadable guide HERE

Always stay up-to-date with the latest and greatest trends online by subscribing to our newsletter where we talk about trending tech and social media news weekly! In the meantime, check out our Instagram and TikTok @thesocialinst for tips, trends, and highlights when it comes to social media. 

The Social Institute (TSI) is the leader in understanding student experiences and creator of #WinAtSocial, a gamified, online learning platform that equips students, educators, and families to navigate social experiences — online and offline — in healthy ways. Our unique, student-respected approach incorporates topics like social media, technology use, and current events that have a significant impact on student well-being. Lessons teach life skills for the modern day to inspire high-character decisions that support the health, happiness, and future success of students, while capturing data that provides insights to school leaders to inform school policy and communications, and enable high-impact teaching and a healthy learning environment. For schools, our turnkey technology allows for easy implementation and a comprehensive game plan to support the well-being of school communities. For schools, our turnkey technology allows for easy implementation and a comprehensive game plan to support the well-being of school communities.