top of page
  • snitzoid

The Case for Banning TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram for Kids Under 16

The Case for Banning TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram for Kids Under 16

Doctors and policy makers say that 13 is too young for social media

Julie Jargon, WSJ

June 10, 2023 12:01 am ET

I was recently talking to a father of two kids, ages 5 and 6. He told me he and his wife decided to wait until the children are in high school before even considering giving them access to social media.

He’s not only a concerned parent. He’s U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who last month issued an advisory about the effects of social media on adolescent mental health.

“Early adolescence is an especially risky time during a vulnerable stage of brain development,” he told me. “Kids are much more susceptible to peer pressure, opinions and comparison.”

Murthy, 45 years old, didn’t say how old children should be to have social media. After speaking with him and other doctors and policy makers, I think there is a number that makes sense: 16.

Yes, social media can be a vital source of connection for young people. But until some big study proves otherwise, the bad seems to outweigh the good for younger teens.

Laws—geared around advertising and data collection, not children’s safety—allow anyone 13 and older to download the apps. Plenty of research draws links between social-media use in early teen years and the youth mental-health crisis, which Murthy calls the defining public-health challenge of our time.

‘13 is too young’

The same science that tells us kids under 16 shouldn’t operate motor vehicles also suggests they should probably stay off TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat.

The brain’s prefrontal cortex, responsible for impulse control and decision making, doesn’t fully develop until around age 25. The brain’s rewards and emotion centers get revved up well before that, during puberty. This mismatch is why teens take risks or react with emotional extremes to things adults would likely shrug off.

It’s like too much acceleration and not enough brakes, says Carl Marci, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. But the prefrontal cortex begins to catch up by age 16, he says.

Some teens mature faster than others and might be equipped to handle social media’s pitfalls before 16. And there are plenty of immature 16-year-olds who probably shouldn’t be on social media (much less behind the wheel of a car).

That’s why the nation’s top doctor and lawmakers hesitate to pinpoint a magic age for social-media readiness—but agree 13 isn’t it.

“There are reasons we as a society have decided there are things children shouldn’t do until a certain age,” says Marsha Blackburn, a Republican U.S. senator from Tennessee. “People realize now that 13 is too young for social media.”

Blackburn, a grandmother of three, says parents should decide what age their child should be on social media.

She also says social-media companies need to establish more guardrails to keep teens safe. The Kids Online Safety Act, the bipartisan bill she introduced last month, would require social-media companies to allow minors to opt out of algorithmic recommendations, such as those served up by TikTok, which has been shown to push harmful content to teens, among other things.

‘Every year matters’

So why do social-media companies continue to treat 13-year-olds like adults?

Congress passed a law in 1998 called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. It was intended to keep companies from collecting and disseminating data on children under age 13. So developers have used it as a key age to allow kids to create accounts, particularly for services with an advertising component.

I know, many of you are shaking your heads: 16 seems utterly absurd given how many 10-year-olds already get access to TikTok and Snapchat. Consider what Murthy and his wife plan to do.

To avoid their kids becoming isolated by being the only middle schoolers without social media, Murthy says they plan to partner with like-minded parents to keep kids off social media until high school. “I would encourage other families to do that as well,” he said.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy talked about the youth mental-health crisis during a Senate committee hearing earlier this month. PHOTO: ANNA MONEYMAKER/GETTY IMAGES

That might be easier said than done. The parents of a few of my 11-year-old daughter’s friends might be game to enter into such a pact with me, but some of her friends have been on Instagram and TikTok for more than a year already.

When certain communities, such as schools, decide to go without social media—or entirely without smartphones—kids often report feeling relieved to be free of the comparisons, bullying and exclusion that can come with social media.

Being 16 doesn’t mean going fully free-range on social media, either; after all, we don’t put them on the road without driver’s ed and licenses. The American Psychological Association last month issued recommendations for adolescent social-media use that mirror what I’ve long been saying in my columns. That includes parents having ongoing conversations with their children about the content they see, and limiting kids’ social media during certain hours so it doesn’t interfere with their sleep and physical activity.

Given what we know now about the risks of social media for kids, why rush into it? As Murthy told me, “Kids only have one childhood. Every year matters.”

—For more Family & Tech columns, advice and answers to your most pressing family-related technology questions, sign up for my weekly newsletter.

Write to Julie Jargon at

3 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

First off, it's to our strategic advantage to be major players in the battery market and compete head-on with China. Will Detroit's Big Three be able to play a major roll? Suspect not. They were al

Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page