Raising the Age Limit for Social… | Alannah & Madeline Foundation Skip to main content

In Australia, there's a growing movement to raise the minimum age for social media use from 13 to 16 years of age, citing concerns about the impact of social media on children and young people. However, enforcing such age restrictions is fraught with challenges, and the broader implications of such a change need careful consideration.

Broader Reforms and Age Assurance

This campaign fits into a larger context of digital reform in Australia, where the concept of 'age assurance'—methods to estimate or verify a user's age online—plays a crucial role.

The Australian Government is reviewing the Online Safety Act and has formed a Joint Select Committee into Social Media which will consider age verification for children. The eSafety Commissioner is also piloting an age-assurance program to prevent children from accessing pornography, which might later influence social media regulations.

The current Debate: Pros and Cons

Arguments for Raising the Age Limit:

Proponents of raising the age limit argue that social media is causing a "crisis of a generation," contributing to loneliness, sleep deprivation, mental health concerns, and reduced social skills among children. They claim that delaying social media exposure will grant children "three extra years of their childhood" free from the "destructive and addictive hold" of these platforms. They emphasise that many children lack the impulse control, understanding of privacy and risk, and digital literacy needed to navigate social media safely. These advocates stress that children are exposed to inappropriate and damaging material on social media, warranting stricter age restrictions.

Arguments Against Raising the Age Limit:

Critics of the campaign to raise the age limit argue that the approach is misguided and oversimplifies a complex issue. They contend that portraying children as passive and lacking autonomy ignores their active participation and creativity on social media. Social media, they argue, provides children with access to information, a sense of belonging, opportunities for identity exploration and empowerment, and avenues for self-disclosure and social support—all of which are linked to positive psychological well-being and stress reduction.

Critics also highlight that restrictions could lead to covert use of social media, potentially exacerbating mental health issues by hindering open communication about risks. They argue that the focus should be on improving the digital literacy and safety of young users rather than imposing blanket age restrictions. Otherwise, they point out, 16-year-olds will enter social media platforms which are still not designed to respect their rights.

Practical Challenges of Age Limits

Currently, the minimum age of 13 years for social media use is loosely enforced, with many platforms relying on self-declared ages. Surveys show a significant number of children below this age already use social media. For instance, in 2022, 22% of Australian children aged 8-10 and 46% aged 11-13 visited social networking sites. Effective enforcement of new age limits would require robust age assurance methods, which are still developing and pose risks of their own.

We Need a Broader Approach

A more effective approach to online safety for children requires a comprehensive strategy beyond raising age limits. This includes improving the design and functioning of digital products for all children under 18 and enhancing digital and media literacy among children, parents, and educators. Stopping the misuse of children’s personal information matters more than ever as generative AI evolves at a rapid rate.

A comprehensive strategy should include:

Children’s Online Privacy Code: To protect children's personal information and ensure age assurance is used ethically.
Review of the Online Safety Act: To strengthen safety standards and require tech companies to prioritise children's best interests.
Digital Literacy Education: To equip children, parents, and educators with skills to navigate digital technologies responsibly.
Support for Further Research: There is a need for more high-quality research to understand the effects of social media on young people's mental health and development.

Where to Next?

While raising the social media age limit to 16 in Australia is a well-intentioned effort to protect children, it is not without its complexities and controversies. A broader, multi-faceted approach that includes improving digital literacy, protecting children's data, and ensuring ethical age assurance practices may offer a more balanced and effective solution.

  • It is Government's responsibility to ensure children's rights are upheld and realised.
  • It is the responsibility of big tech companies to prevent their services and products being used in ways which violate these rights.
  • It is all our responsibility to skill and educate ourselves and our children on how to navigate tech safely and confidently

Learn more about how we have advocated for children's rights online here.