April 24, 2024


Should social media sites have age limits?

Of all the ‘screens’ in our lives, the phone is the one we use the most. To venture a guess, most of that time spent on the phone is on a social media platform like Facebook, Instagram, or X (previously Twitter). Scrolling through feeds and photos of friends and family, catching up on the news, or seeing what’s gone viral.

As social media has become part and parcel of people’s lives, there has been an increasing concern for kids on these platforms. Many now have phones or tablets of their own, and so have relatively easy access to social media. But how young is too young? There’s a lot of bad stuff on the internet and social media. Should there be an age limit for access? Would that even help?


The pandemic lockdown brought to the fore several social issues, one of them being an addiction to social media. While things like schooling and learning slowly shifted back to offline mode, kids using the internet for recreational purposes only increased.

In India, a survey by LocalCircles showed 61% of Indians observed their kids, aged 9 to 17, spending an average of 3 hours on social media daily. 39% stated their kids spent 1-3 hours on electronic devices daily. A large portion of that time is on social media sites. In some ways, all this stands to reason as more people have broadband internet and smartphones.

Looking at other countries paints a similar picture. Kids and teens spend a lot of time on social media platforms. They spend sometimes over 3 hours on at least one social media platform daily. While some use these screens to keep in touch with friends (another holdover from the lockdowns), most spend their time watching videos or gaming.

There’s plenty to choose from. While YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram remain popular, TikTok (in the US) has seemingly pulled ahead. These companies have a straightforward objective – get as many people to spend as much time on their site as possible. The more data they can get from users, the more advertisers they can bring on and the more money they make. It’s a relatively simple business model.

For parents, teachers, and others, there’s a pertinent worrying question – what are kids consuming on these platforms? What are they being exposed to? There’s a lot of harmless stuff, but there’s a lot of harmful content too. They’re at the mercy of algorithms.

There’s a lot of science behind the brain development of kids and being exposed to online content. At what age should they be allowed on social media? Should there be an age limit? Last year, a Karnataka High Court judge suggested an age limit for social media in light of kids being addicted to them. In China, the draft “Guidelines for the Establishment of Minors’ Modes for the Mobile Internet” drew global attention for proposing a time limit.

Would an age limit be feasible? Is it even the right approach?

VIEW: Not a feasible solution

There’s no doubt that users want social media platforms to be safer for everyone, especially youngsters. There has been increasing momentum and pressure on companies to do something. On the outside, some of the solutions, while they have good intentions, don’t tackle the root issue – how these platforms prey on developing brains.

Many current policy efforts are looking at age limits. But that’s not what the science says. The American Psychological Association (APA) recently highlighted solutions that follow the science. A teenage brain is still learning things like impulse control and prioritisation. That makes it particularly vulnerable to the pull of “likes” and “shares”. When a person turns 13 or 16, that doesn’t automatically mean they can handle social media better. Conversely, some 13-year-olds might be mature enough to handle it.

We know age limits don’t work. Youngsters are becoming increasingly more tech-savvy. They’ll find workarounds for age restrictions. Since social media isn’t going anywhere, we’ve got to learn to tailor solutions within these platforms. One solution could be default settings to protect a child’s data, turn off endless scrolling, disable likes, and restrict certain types of content. As kids age and mature, they could be tweaked. Social media companies have a responsibility to share information on how kids and teens use their platforms.

COUNTERVIEW: It can work

Media literacy and limiting time on these platforms aren’t going to work. They’re just not feasible. In the US, one proposed solution is raising the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act’s minimum age from 13 to 18. The US has that legal mechanism, and other countries can follow suit. Another approach is effective age verification systems with penalties for companies.

The reason to have age limits is that it does follow the science in some ways. Kids under 13 don’t have mature enough brains to make smart decisions online. Just because kids can be tech-savvy at increasingly younger ages doesn’t mean they’re developing at the same rate as their digital acumen. There’s research to show it takes about 12 years for cognitive capabilities to fully develop. Several experts have argued that it doesn’t make sense for anyone below 13 to be on social media.

The US Surgeon General has issued repeated warnings that social media is a “profound risk” to the mental health of adolescents and teens. Social media companies prey on developing brains and groupthink. They want teens and youngsters to think not being on social media means they’re missing out. Reorienting youngster’s lives around things other than social media is certainly a daunting task. We’re all tech addicts to some extent. But given how toxic and harmful things have become online, something needs to give.

Reference Links:

  • Kids as Young as 8 Are Using Social Media More Than Ever, Study Finds – The New York Times
  • 60% of children spend 3 hours a day on social media: Study – Times of India
  • 73% Indian parents want parental consent for children to access social media, OTT – Forbes
  • APA chief scientist outlines potential harms, benefits of social media for kids – American Psychological Association
  • Social media’s age limits won’t protect your kids – Deccan Herald
  • It Was a Mistake to Let Kids Onto Social Media Sites. Here’s What to Do Now. – The New York Times
  • We owe it to our kids to put an age limit on social media – Tech Crunch

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) Social media sites should have age limits.

b) Social media sites shouldn’t have age limits.


For the Right:

BJP’s 2024 election manifesto only looks tech-savvy. It is quite outdated

For the Left:

I changed political parties out of conviction