Rethinking age restrictions for social media participation


Mr. 9 at my house is a Minecrafter and game player. He is into the culture of Minecraft including fan-made content like songs, poems, and YouTube video walkthroughs and strategy sharing. He recently asked for his own YouTube account so he could share his own content and participate in the ongoing conversation.
Our own conversations about his intentions made it more clear to me that this was far more than a gaming exercise. We talked about his intended audience, the voice he was bringing to the conversation, the content focus for each video, how long they should be, what he appreciated in other videos he watched, the characteristics of a quality vlog.

The metaphor that came to mind was pencils and pens. As I recall, I don't think I was allowed to use a pen in school until grade 2 or 3. I imagine the reason was that we make mistakes when we are younger and writing with something as permanent as a pen was ill-advised. After all, how could we fix our mistakes? The tool was limited until we were old enough to write error-free.
Moderated spaces like KidBlog are terrific giving kids a chance to engage with the blogging medium in a safe place where errors (in spelling and judgement) can me mediated before going live online. But there is the issue of permanence. Understanding that if you can see it on the screen, there really is no way to prevent it from being collected and redistributed.

Mr. 9's mom and I talk frequently about his consuming and participating in social media at this age. We understand that these communication technologies are not going away, that more and more of our communication takes place in public spaces, and that there are skills in craftsmanship and critical thinking that make such engagement productive and safe. We reasoned that, at this age, we could better monitor and guide that skill development laying a foundation for positive social media participation. So, the boy has accounts (for which we know all the passwords), and with our permission and guidance, is learning the who, what, when, where, and hows of the online world. At the same time we talk about his digital footprint/tattoo and how important it is to protect his reputation.

These are also ongoing conversations in my classroom with my teenage students who are already fully immersed with different levels of guidance at home. These conversations are a critical element to learning appropriate and effective use of these communications technologies - the reading, writing, viewing, representing, speaking and listening, strands of the language arts must also be explored in a digital context with the ever-present and far-reaching audience.

image source:

Jump on the social media bandwagon by Matt Hamm, on Flickr

What do you think? Share you thoughts below...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: