How young is too young (for digital media)?

Kara Powell Art Bamford 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.

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Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.


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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

Brad M. Griffin is the Senior Director of Content for the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, writer, and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is the coauthor of over a dozen books, including 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Faith in an Anxious World, Growing Young, several Sticky Faith books, Every Parent’s Guide to Navigating Our Digital World, and Can I Ask That? Brad and his family live in Southern California, where he serves as Pastor of Youth and Family Ministries at Mountainside Communion.


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