We invited young people to share their experiences accessing and using online platforms for the first time. Their experiences highlighted the impact of social media on their lives and their awareness of safety concerns. There were overlapping themes in the responses we received from the 12-14 year olds and 15-17 year olds. Overall, young people have said they first used social media to communicate with friends and family, and to organise hang outs.
Among both age groups, Instagram was the top social media platform young people downloaded and signed up for as their first social media account. Facebook and Snapchat followed closely behind. In terms of the age the young people created their accounts, some young people had accounts from the age of 7, with many getting their first account when they were 10 years old.
An interesting insight provided by the 12-14 year olds was their initiative to research the ratings of the app to determine whether it was safe to use before downloading it. This indicates a high degree of awareness of the need for safety among young people about their online activity.
Young people also recalled that the platforms they first used were based on what their friends use and that they communicated mainly with other young people they knew. However, there are underlying consequences to this as many young people reported that they felt peer pressure. Peer pressure was said to have accumulated due to various reasons including pressure to sign up for an account, to post certain content, or to have a certain amount of followers.
Young people explained how your social media account is linked to your social status at school. These pressures sometimes led to young people not telling their parents about having an account or falsifying their age when signing up to one that had a higher age limit. In cases where the young person did ask their parents for permission, the account would be under the parents’ name and email.
Additionally, despite common concerns from parents regarding the type of content their child/ren may come across when using social media, the young people in our focus groups noted that they were less likely to come across any dangerous or inappropriate content when they initially made the account. Some young people associated this outcome with the stricter monitoring of accessible content by their parents.
Overall, from the focus groups, we found young people indicated they were aware of what they are signing up for. For some young people, having their own social media accounts was empowering as they felt they were able to be independent, grown up and mature in the world.