The other morning as I was checking the ParentingAces Instagram, I noticed a new “follow.” When I clicked on the profile and saw this new follower was a 9-year-old child, it made me a bit uncomfortable. Why is a 9-year-old on Instagram and why is he following ParentingAces?
As I investigated a bit further, I saw the account was created by the child’s parent. However, the profile photo and the name on the account was the child’s. And the bio included a link to the USTA National Training Center as well as a link to the child’s local tennis academy.
With everything we know about Internet stalking and children, I was surprised a parent would do something like that. Presumably to get the child noticed by the Tennis World???
Given that the USTA National Training Center is mentioned in the child’s profile, I reached out to USTA’s head of Player Development, Martin Blackman, to hear his thoughts. However, Martin referred me to USTA’s programming for young junior players. I was hoping for something more. Oh well.
I also reached out to elite performance expert and sports psychologist, Dr. Michelle Cleere. She has done a lot of research around social media and children and was happy to share her thoughts.
“It’s one thing for an adult to have their own social media account and post pics of their kids; it’s another to set up an account in a child’s name for marketing purposes. Not only is this not in benefit of the child, but it’s all about the parents and the parents putting pressure on their kids. It’s also creating a culture where kids are not individuating leading to their inability to take care of themselves in high school and college. They rely on their parents and coaches and remain externally motivated. They have trouble with decision making,” Dr. Cleere states.
She goes on to share, “I also get friend requests and contact requests (via the form on my site) from young people. It’s always a little disconcerting. On the one hand we do live in a social media era and it’s either keep up or be left behind but I am a firm believer that kids should not have a phone or iPad until they are 11-12. It’s at this age that a child has more control over emotions and they are becoming more skilled at handling conflict and negotiating solutions with friends. At the same time, you may see some volatility in her emotions. However, I still believe there should be communication around the responsibility of having technology as well pros and cons of it. Kids should have guidelines and boundaries need to be set around usage. There’s an addictive component to the usage of social media. People check and check and check, waiting for likes – to be liked. For some SM is their primary source of socialization. It’s how they gauge their acceptance rating. It’s a form of external validation which is the opposite of what we wants kids to develop.”
I started digging a little deeper into the Internet to see if I was being overly-judgy about this whole thing. Apparently, though, I am not alone.
One website, theasianparent.com, shares in one of its posts, “As useful or entertaining as these social media accounts are, when you post your child’s photo online, you could be putting him at risk, making him vulnerable to online predators. This could also be seen as a violation of your child’s privacy—are you sure she would appreciate having these photos online when she’s older?”
Yet another, UK-based lifesawildflower.com, says, “Creating an account for your tiny child, trying to actively grow and expand it, accepting hundreds/thousands of followers who you do not know for the greater part, follow people back that you or your child do not know or have not met, hashtag your child’s photos for maximum public exposure and attention, caption your photos speaking on their behalf with your opinions voiced as your own – IS a form of exploitation. This needs to be recognised. If you are a parent that has started a PUBLIC account for your child and are doing the listed things above and are not aware of the ramifications of what you are doing, how it can be considered wrong, a danger, an exploitation or a gross invasion of privacy than you need to really be honest with yourself and think this over. Become aware of what you are doing and aware of the heightened risks involving young children being targeted online. Think about what this means for your child and their future? Is it fair that we offer a greater exposure of our children to online predators by creating public accounts and showcasing endless photos, precious memories and milestones?”
I remember one of my first trips to the US Open. I was standing outside the Player’s Lounge when Roger Federer’s then-toddler daughters ran up to him. Someone was taking photos on their phone, and Roger’s wife, Mirka, told the person to stop and to delete the photos right away. I was sort of surprised at how outraged Mirka seemed, but I later learned why she felt the need to be so protective of her daughters’ images being unleashed onto a public forum.
I won’t publish them here, but if you Google it, you will find some disgusting comments on children’s public social media profiles. There are some very sick people in the world, sadly, and we must protect our children from them.
There is, in fact, the Children’s Online Privacy Act (COPPA) which was designed to protect children from this exploitation and from potential stalkers. To learn more about COPPA, click here.
So, at the risk of making some of you angry, I will just flat out say it:
DO NOT CREATE A SOCIAL MEDIA PROFILE IN YOUR CHILD’S NAME!
Especially if you are not going to make it a private account shared only with close friends and family. And especially if it’s solely to get your child noticed by coaches, sponsors, and/or governing bodies.
Once your child is age 12 or 13, which experts feel is the appropriate age for children to start using social media, let him create his own account which he manages and you monitor. Otherwise, you risk exposing your young one in ways more horrid than any of us want to consider.
NOTE: As pointed out in the Comments below, USTA NetGeneration recently announced a social media ambassador campaign. For the record, I am 100% against this initiative.
For more information on this topic, click the links below: