Stephanie is the Rotorua Daily Post's education and lifestyle reporter.

Primary school principal warns parents about the dangers of underage kids on social media

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Westbrook School principal Colin Watkins. Photo/File
Westbrook School principal Colin Watkins. Photo/File

Primary school children are lying about their age to set up social media accounts, causing major concern for educators who are seeing the negative roll-on effect in their schools.

The issue has prompted one Rotorua principal to this week remind parents of the need to supervise their child's internet use and ensure they were the appropriate age for social media sites.

Other local principals say dangers from unmonitored social media use include cyberbullying and potential exposure to sexual predators and criminal behaviour.

Westbrook School principal Colin Watkins included the warning in this week's school newsletter.

In it he said it had come to the school's attention a number of pupils were using sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Musical.ly.

"These sites are blocked at school and are not designed to be used by primary aged children. Those children who we have become aware of, have Facebook pages which have no security or privacy measures in place, allowing anyone to see their page and make contact with them. This comes with obvious dangers and risks," it said.

"As a school it is our responsibility to teach cyber safety and digital citizenship. As parents, it is your responsibility to supervise your children's use of the internet, ensure they are old enough to sign up to social media sites and to discuss with them ways of keeping safe online."

Rotorua mum: Parents must be vigilant

The official minimum age to open an account on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and Snapchat is 13. For Vine, Tinder and Yik Yak it is 17. However it is easy and common for children to get around this.

YouTube requires account holders to be 18, but a 13-year-old can sign up with a parent's permission.

Mr Watkins told the Rotorua Daily Post it was unrealistic to try ban pupils from the sites but he wanted parents to monitor their child's use.

"It's an ongoing issue that most schools are facing. All we can hope is that parents will take a more active role in monitoring their kids and being proactive about their internet use.

"In a perfect world these kids would not be using these sites but we have to realise as educators that we don't have the right to ban them beyond the school gates."

Lynmore Primary School principal Lorraine Taylor said underage social media use had led to problems in the school.

"We have seen incidents resulting from cyber bullying and ultimately the backlash lies with us as the school.

"We tell parents their children are too young to be using these sites and they all seem to be aware of it but the issues keep happening."

Ms Taylor said she estimated about a quarter of her Year 6 pupils were using social media.

John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh said increasingly school deans and counsellors were having to deal with the fallout from inappropriate social media use.

He said children as young as 10 were now signing up to social media sites.

"These children are technically more savvy but they are not emotionally or mentally mature enough to deal with the content they could potentially be exposed to."

Netsafe executive director Martin Cocker said most social media sites had a minimum sign-up age of 13 to comply with US law.

"While there are a large range of products that come under the social media umbrella, I think it's fair to say all safety mechanisms in place on these sites assume the user is 13 or over so they are not geared towards users who have lied about their age."

Mr Cocker said principals had approached Netsafe expressing the same concerns about underage users.

"Ultimately it is safer that a child uses the site underage but carefully monitored than for a parent to disallow its use and the child uses it anyway but unmonitored."

We asked our Facebook readers: Do you let your children under 13 on social media?
- It breaches the Terms & Conditions of most sites. Even then I think the age is too young. Social media reflects the big wide world which most children aren't allowed out into until they leave school.
- I monitor use and view everything.
- Complete ban in our home
- A no no in our house
- I don't let my sons on Facebook... They don't need to see anything on here
- I allow my 12 year old to have a Facebook account... its linked to my phone therefore I receive all her messages and notifications. I trust my daughter and we have always been very open about everything.
- Both my children use social media, I'm ok with it as we are a very open family and discuss everything.
- Every time we delete/remove my 12-year-old sister's Facebook she would just create a new one at her friends house and it got really annoying so we gave up, plus all her friends have one so it's kind of unfair in her eyes if we don't let her
- I do... It keeps my boy occupied and out of my hair, he's 13 so pretty much does what he wants but within reason
- No not at my house my 12-year-old girl thinks I'm so mean for not letting her on Facebook but it can wait. I've seen some of her peers on Facebook and they look way older and seem obsessed with selfies. I don't like it. I think it's inappropriate for kids on Facebook, you can't take back what they've seen or control/monitor what they see.​
- Against it, yet my 10-year-old daughter has managed to get online multiple times and create a new Facebook profile. Each time I've reported it as underage and had it removed.

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