The Earnheardt house is full of “Stranger Things” fans.
Up until last week, I was a Twitter follower of “Stranger Things” star Millie Bobby Brown, who plays the role of Eleven, a young girl with a shaved-head and supernatural powers.
Okay. Eleven’s shaved head was season one. I’ll get back to that in a minute.
In any other case it would seem weird, maybe even creepy, for me to follow a then 13-year-old girl (Brown is now 14). But when that girl is the star of your family’s favorite TV show, it feels less, well, strange.
This is, in part, because we had a brief exchange on Twitter over a year ago.
Again, I’m well aware this sounds super creepy. I promise, it’s not.
Around the same time we were watching season one, we shaved our son’s head. He was having a bout with lice, and shaving his head helped speed the cure.
When we shaved his head, everyone in our home took notice of his uncanny resemblance to Brown (aka, Eleven with a shaved head).
I took a quick snap and posted a side-by-side comparison picture with my son and Brown, and a quip on the likeness:
“Pretty sure my Ozzie could play Eleven’s (aka @milliebbrown) long lost bro in @Stranger_Things season 3. Spitting image in a hospital gown.”
She responded with a:
Of course, her account is now deleted, and her "so cute" tweet no longer exists.
It doesn’t sound like much, but that quick tweet turned into thousands of “favorites” and only strengthened our family’s Stranger-Things-fandom resolve. Over the last year, I’ve continued to share Brown’s posts and update with our kids for no other reason than it was fun to connect over our family’s favorite show.
That was until last week, when Brown was forced to quit Twitter in the wake of harassment by cyberbullies who distorted her image, pegging her as someone violently homophobic (Brown is actually a champion of the LGBTQ community).
For me, it begs the bigger question of the appropriate age for social media use, let alone Twitter, even when that user is a celebrity.
I was complicit in the use of Twitter by a celebrity teen who I’m no longer convinced was the right age to handle the nuances of social media. Now I’m even more concerned about how non-celebrity kids are faring in such a hostile environment.
Instagram and Snapchat have their problems, but Twitter really requires an entirely different level of maturity.
Most platforms won’t allow users under the age of 13. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) dictates this age for U.S.-based accounts.
Celebrity or not, most teens aren’t mature enough to handle the complexities of being social media mass communicators, and they probably won’t learn it in middle school or on the set of a popular TV show.
Maybe it’s time for COPPA to rethink that minimum age.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.