How young is too young (for digital media)?

Kara Powell Image Kara Powell Art Bamford Image Art Bamford Brad M. Griffin Image Brad M. Griffin | Oct 8, 2018

We want to talk more about media with our kids, but we’re not always sure how. This post is part of a series celebrating our newest resource, Every Parent’s Guide to Navigating Our Digital World, which offers tools to help parents think differently about digital media, talk more about it together, and be inspired by the ideas of other parents navigating these same waters day after day. Join the community of families who are #navigatingdigitally.

If you’re like us, you have wondered more than once what age is the “right” age to start using a particular digital device, app, or social media platform.

When we talk with parents about this, many express feeling like they’re holding the line in a battle for as long as possible. They feel constant pressure, from multiple sources, for kids to start using more and more digital technology at earlier and earlier ages.

That cultural pressure makes this question particularly tough.

We can tell you what doctors recommend, what legal regulations say, or various other pros and cons; but when your kids’ school tells you they need an email account, or their coach tells you they will be coordinating practice times by text message, or your teen comes home and tells you the irrefutable sad refrain, “All my friends have one!”—the data seems to go out the window. Here are a few tips:

1. Listen to what the doctors say.

The American Association of Pediatrics recommends keeping “screen-free zones” in the house, especially a young person’s bedroom, as well as “screen-free times” like during meals. They also recommend just one to two hours of entertainment screen time per day, and zero screen time at all for children under two years old.

Keep in mind that these are the same people who recommend brushing your teeth three times a day, sleeping eight hours a night, daily exercise, and a well-balanced diet—they set the bar at “best-case scenario.” But that best-case scenario is based on what’s good for our bodies, minds, and emotions. Aiming high never hurts.

2. The magic number is [STILL!] 13.

You might be surprised to learn that the minimum age required for accounts on Google, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and a host of other social networks is 13. If you have a child under the age of 13 who is using these platforms, you can appeal to terms of use and the current law (the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA) to draw a line. We’re not kidding—you can invoke the law to argue your case!

3. Talk with other parents.

Most parents feel left on their own to make decisions about digital media. Agreeing to particular standards (like holding the age 13 lower limit) with other parents in your school, church, or community provides some peace of mind and can be helpful when teachers, coaches, scout leaders, and so on try to push toward using particular contact platforms by providing strength in numbers.

4. Remember why it matters.

These devices and platforms are to our kids like the Air Jordans, leather jackets, Walkmans, or whatever else were to you at their age. It is easy to get misdirected by questions of convenience, necessity, requirement for school, and so on. What is at stake for a lot of young people when they ask, then beg, for these devices or networks is a feeling of fitting in and self-worth. Take that into consideration, show empathy, and remember how important social access and status symbols seemed to you in your adolescent journey.

Want more parenting tips on digital media?

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Kara Powell Image
Kara Powell

Kara Powell, PhD, is the chief of leadership formation and executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) at Fuller Theological Seminary. Named by Christianity Today as one of "50 Women to Watch," Kara serves as a youth and family strategist for Orange and speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara has authored or coauthored numerous books, including Faith Beyond Youth Group, 3 Big Questions That Shape Your Future, 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Growing With, Growing Young, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family and the entire Sticky Faith series. Kara and her husband, Dave, are regularly inspired by the learning and laughter that comes from their three teenage and young adult children.

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Art Bamford Image
Art Bamford

Art Bamford is a Ph.D. student in Media Studies at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He completed an M.Div. at Fuller in 2015, and holds an M.A. in media and communication from the University of Denver where he worked as a research associate for the Estlow Center's Teens & New Media @ Home project.

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Brad M. Griffin Image
Brad M. Griffin

Brad M. Griffin is the Senior Director of Content & Research for the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based resources for youth ministry leaders & families. A speaker, writer, and volunteer pastor, Brad is the coauthor of over fifteen books, including Faith Beyond Youth Group, 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager & 3 Big Questions That Shape Your Future, Growing Young, and Sticky Faith. Brad and his wife, Missy, live in Southern California and share life with their three teenage and young adult kids.

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