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The Prime Minister has backed a petition calling for the legal age of social media access to be raised from 13 to 16 in an effort to protect teen's mental health. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Monique Harmer

PM backs under 16 social media ban to protect children’s mental health

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has declared his support for a petition calling on the government to raise the legal age children are allowed to create social media accounts from 13-years-old to 16.

The petition, started by Nova radio presenter Michael Wipfli – known as “Wippa” – and Finch production company chief executive Rob Galluzzo, says we are raising an 'anxious generation'.

"Kids need more time to develop healthy and secure identities before they’re exposed to the minefield of social media," the petition's mission statement reads.

"Excessive social media use is rewiring young brains within a critical window of psychological development, causing an epidemic of mental illness."

The PM is concerned that addictive social media apps are deteriorating teen's mental health, stating that even he tends to avoid interacting with strangers online.

“What we want is our youngest Australians spending more time outside playing sport, engaging with each other in a normal way and less time online,” Prime Minister Albanese told Nova FM radio on Tuesday.

“And one way to do that is through restrictions on social media.

“I don’t look at the comments on my social media because, if I did, I’d find it difficult to leave the house in the morning. People will say things anonymously that are terrible.”

His statements come after $6.5m in last Tuesday's federal budget was allocated to trial stronger age restrictions on some websites, especially sites with pornographic material, along with other efforts to protect children online, combat manfluencer's extremist views getting purchase and preventing sexist attitudes in school-aged boys.

A separate petition calling for the same action was launched on Monday by News Corp Australia, along with campaigning support from its metro and regional mastheads.

However, some young adults are concerned about how the ban would be implemented.

What do young people say?

6 News is a news outlet that exclusively employs teenagers, live streams hourly bulletins on YouTube and provides news updates on social media.

Its founder and managing editor, Leonardo Puglisi, is concerned that his news site, which he founded in 2019 when he was 11-years-old, would have to fire half of its journalists, who are under 16.

"What counts as social media? Instagram and TikTok? Obviously. Facebook and Twitter? Definitely. How about YouTube? LinkedIn?" he said in an article submitted to Crikey.

6 News political editor Roman MacKinnon interviewed Anthony Albanese and Scott Morrison in 2022. He says, "We would be the only news outlet in Australia, in 2024, that is effectively forced by a government ban to cut 50 per cent of our workforce because they’re not of the 'appropriate age'."

Banning teenagers from these platforms will only "spur on teens" to find loopholes and sign up anyway, he said.

Mr Puglisi also said it is unreasonable to consider younger teenagers responsible enough to have a part-time job, but not an Instagram account.

"Banning 13 to 15-year-olds from YouTube is, in my view, pretty insane. It cannot be put in the same basket as other social media platforms. Without YouTube, there would be no 6 News," he wrote.

"Post remote learning, schools have continued to use YouTube as part of assignments, research and homework, which has undoubtedly helped many students (including myself) better understand a particular subject. Why ban that?

"Let me be clear: in no way do I doubt that social media can be harmful to kids, but the facts of the matter are that every person is different. 

"Protecting kids online is important, and I don’t think anyone doubts that. But a flat-out ban? It just won’t work, it’d be incredibly difficult to police, and may very well do more harm than good."

He said the responsibility to mandate social media use should fall on parents, although he acknowledged most parents aren't digitally literate enough to supervise their children online.

Parent don't know what they don't know

Early childhood development expert Dr Elise Waghorn told Education Review most parents simply don't realise the digital footprint their children are creating.

"I think parents don't know what they don't know, and that's a scary thing," she said.

"I definitely support the [raise in age], or at least in having a conversation of what that might look like.

"Different platforms might require different rules, maybe some platforms need to have an even older age limit. There definitely needs to be a consideration of what this might look like."

Although, Dr Waghorn said that government action would not only need to be met with more digital education for parents, but for the children online, too.

"We definitely need to educate parents about the long-term effects social media is having on children.

"We also need to get that message out there [to children,] as opposed to just telling them to stop, because if we just tell them that, they're just going to rebel like children, they're just going to go against what we say.

"So, we actually need to provide some significant and important information about the effects of social media on children, and why we need to bring in these limits."

Dr Waghorn published research on Wednesday that found Australian school students feel less safe at school compared to the OECD average.

She found one in six students said they had been made fun of by peers, and that there was a strong correlation between disruptive and bullying behaviour and school performance.

High levels of distraction from phones and social media use in the classroom was reported by 40 per cent of students in the study.

"That's the bottom line, it's not a matter of restricting children's social connections, it's not a matter of trying to disengage them," Dr Waghorn said.

"It's trying to keep children safe from the harmful effects that having access to social media has on children's development, their brain and their social interactions."

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One comment

  1. As a parent i am very concerned about the effect excessive use of Youtube and snapchat (in use in our family) however as a parent i feel like i cant keep them off of it – even though i have parental controls on certain screens but not all so they will find another device to use! It is virtually impossible to manage and let them have some screen time – game/minecraft and alike – without them falling into the social media trap.

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