In the digital age, children are granted the privilege of social media at a much younger age than psychologists suggest is healthy.
"Given the mind of an 8-, 10-, 12-, 13-year-old child, the risk-benefit ratio is unfavorable because they don't understand the possible repercussions of it," said psychologist Dr. Edward Christophersen.
According to a study from Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics, many parents fear cyber bullying, depression and underdeveloped social skills, among other dangers, much more with children under 12 than children ages 13 to 19.
The study found that 83 percent of parents, though, believe that the benefits balance or outweigh the costs of a child using social media, because they believe social media prepares children for success in a world becoming more dependent on technology.
Around 68 percent of parents believe that a child should be at least 13 to join Facebook, but 64 percent of parents with children 12 and under fear that sexting or inappropriate sexual behavior will occur during the use of social media. Only 49 percent of parents with children from 13 to 19 are worried about sexting and inappropriate sexual behavior.
Cassville Police Department investigator James Smith, who works with the Southwest Cyber Crime Task Force in Joplin to investigate Internet crimes against children, warns that it is extremely important to evaluate the maturity of the child wishing to use social media.
The maturity of the child will affect the outcome of social media use, which can include the development of cliques, social withdrawal from groups, a lack of ambition or an enhanced ability to collaborate with others, said Smith.
Parents should place the computer in a highly visible place and be aware of the child's actions while on the computer to discourage harmful behavior, said Smith. Parents should also know the username, password and e-mail address of their child's social media account.
Dr. Christophersen says that, in the end, parents should decide the age at which their children are granted the privilege of social media, regardless of peer pressure. Even after allowing the child access, parents should monitor all the texts, tweets and posts.
For more information regarding the study from Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics, visit them online at childrensmercy.org.