In a hospital room in Anytown, USA, a baby comes into the world. Moments later, a tweet goes out with a photo and vital details, including name, height and weight. And just like that, a child’s social media presence is born. Likely to follow over the years are photos of faces dripping with ice cream, potty mishaps and triathlon triumphs. Many parents revel in sharing aspects of their children’s lives on their own social media accounts, and dive in personally to stay in touch with friends and curate their public personas. So it’s no surprise that their kids want to do the same—and parents are openly allowing it. We all know that children are using social media, despite COPPA laws restricting use for under-13s. But what does that behavior look like? And how do kids and parents feel about it?
Insight Kids surveyed US kids ages five to 12 and their parents to reach a holistic understanding of the subject, including the extent to which kids are engaging in social media, platforms they frequent, common activities and attitudes. Even to seasoned researchers like ourselves, the results were quite astounding in what they revealed about how rapidly this landscape has evolved—and how deeply social media has seeped into kids’ daily lives.
Pick a platform
Through one platform or another, 100% of US kids ages five to 12 are using social media. Put another way, 0% of kids were kicked out of completing our survey because they did not interact with a digital outlet in our long list of platforms that offer social media capabilities. (Platforms can be private—think texting, chatting among friends and FaceTiming—or available for anyone to see, like an open Instagram account or public YouTube comment.) We even removed YouTube from the equation to test its impact, in case some respondents are simply watching videos and not using social features such as comments, like buttons or subscribing. The result was still 100%.
Still, YouTube is by far the most prevalent platform that has social media features kids use, coming in at 89%. Minecraft is second (63%), and especially popular among tweens. Visual platforms appeal overall since they are easiest for kids to navigate. But even a word-driven one like Twitter shows up prominently, with 19% of kids tweeting regularly. (Notably, Twitter use rises sharply with age, as children learn to read and type).
As for gender, boys and girls are almost equally immersed, with just a few differences to consider. Girls show higher usage of Instagram, Snapchat and Musical.ly compared to boys, who outpace girls in using game-based sites like Minecraft and Roblox.
Kids’ social media activities fall into three main categories: consume, connect and create. Five- to six-year-olds are using social media to learn, observe and stay in touch with family and friends. They primarily consume and connect through reading, watching or looking at posts, making video calls and chatting. Seven- to 10-year-olds, meanwhile, become more active as they begin to subscribe and follow others, and to create content by commenting on friends’ posts. Once kids reach 11, the breadth of their engagement widens to a full range of activities, including sharing their own photos, videos, stories and memes.
All of these activities play into the natural work of growing up by allowing kids to explore interests and express themselves. Feedback from others is crucial, too. So it’s not surprising that kids highly value their social media experiences. Among five- to 10-year-olds, 76% agree that “social media is important for kids my age.” Among tweens, that number jumps to 83%.
Media that gets kids buzzing covers a wide range of topics, including hobbies and passions, insider info, funny material, and new stuff. They love to be in the know with insider info, and up to date on topics that have social cachet. They also like and share “next stage” content that helps them understand what is coming down the pike for them developmentally. This includes clips or memes that offer middle-school revelations on dealing with gender identity, and taking a stand on social issues like climate change.
In terms of specific topics kids buzz about, “stuff I watch, like TV shows and movies” tops the list. Toys, video games/game systems and food/snacks are not far behind.
How parents fit in
For the most part, parents seem content with their kids’ social media usage—57% of the ones we surveyed admit that their children sometimes use social media without their supervision, and that number grows significantly as kids get older.
Notably, a parent’s definition of supervision is very loose, as few actually monitor every single social media interaction. Instead, most take a more passive approach and are satisfied by sometimes being in the room or knowing the child’s passwords. From a parent’s perspective, total supervision is neither practical nor desirable—when mom or dad steps back, their child can enjoy more independence and engage responsibly. In fact, parents and kids alike agree that social media helps kids foster personal connections, explore passions and develop feelings of maturity.
So what to do?
- If you’re a media creator, make your content more relatable by reflecting on the platforms kids are using, the activities they’re doing, and the topics they’re buzzing about.
- If you are creating social media experiences for kids, cater to the developmental abilities and needs of your target age—more visuals for younger kids, and diverse functionality for older ones.
- Be hyper-responsible in protecting kids, knowing that parents are typically not tuned in.
This landscape will certainly keep evolving, and all signs point to kids continuing to immerse deeply and enthusiastically in social media activities, given the concrete benefits they provide. As media professionals, we are the ones who can help shape those conversations and maximize their value.
Sarah Chumsky is VP at Insight Kids, a passionate team of business strategists and developmental experts who spend their waking hours pondering and communicating timely trends. Reach Insight Kids at info@InsightStrategyGroup.com or via www.InsightKids.com.