Is my child ready for social media?

Article at a glance:

  • For most social media accounts, children should be 13 or older and be mature enough to make good choices online.
  • Commit to being proactive about your child’s use of social media.
  • Talk to your children about what is appropriate on social media and how to stay safe.

Much of this generation’s emotional and social development is happening on social media. And social media isn’t all bad. The American Academy of Pediatrics has found a lot of benefits to using social media. For example, it can help create social connections, provide enhanced learning opportunities, and improve technical skills. Plus, permitting our children to use social media allows us to slowly show them the ropes instead of dropping them into the deep end when they turn 18.

However, social media also has its downsides. For example, bullying, sexting, exposure to inappropriate content, and depression. There are also some very real privacy and safety concerns. Children and teens are particularly at risk because their brains are still developing. They don’t always understand the risks involved and can be more susceptible to outside influences.

So before you jump in, be sure to ask yourself these questions.

1. Is your child old enough for social media?

Children see friends and parents using social media—it isn’t surprising that they want a social media account too. So, when is a good age to start?
First, it is important to know that by law it is illegal for children under the age of 13 to open an online account without having verified parental consent. It can be tricky for online companies to verify parental consent, so many make it against the rules to create an account until a user is 13. It is easy to get around that rule, but is it a good idea? Showing children that it’s okay to bend rules online can send mixed messages about the value of honesty.

Plus, most children under the age of 11 have a hard time thinking through the hypothetical consequences of what they share online. We often see far-reaching consequences to what people post online—losing jobs, bullying, public shaming, etc. Is it fair to put that kind of responsibility on a young child? Would any of us want a future employer stumbling on something we posted when we were 10 years old? Reading through old journal entries is cringe-worthy enough; would we want those posted online?

Parents should also consider their child’s maturity when making the decision. Some children are ready to handle social media in a healthy and respectful way, whereas others aren’t. If your child is eager to be online, but not old enough or ready yet, look at steering your child towards more kid-friendly sites like Club Penguin, Yoursphere, or Kuddle.

2. Are you ready for your child to be on social media?

Before you sign your child up for an account, make sure you are familiar with the service and any potential dangers. It is important for parents to stay up to date on technology and social media trends so that they can make sure their children are prepared.

Commit to being proactive about your child’s use of social media. Get to know your child’s friends in real-life and online. Be available to answer questions and address concerns. If your child comes to you for help, don’t get upset or shut down the conversation, even if the subject matter is upsetting. When children ask their parents for help, it is because they need and trust them. Reward their openness and be there for them. And be ready to step in and enforce rules as needed.

3. Have you talked about social media with your child?

It is your job to teach your children how to be good online citizens. Talk to them about what is appropriate on social media and how to stay safe.

In the beginning, let your children know that you will be actively supervising their online activities and that you will have access to their social media accounts. Children respond much better to online supervision if they know what to expect from the beginning. As your children get older and show more maturity, you can start to turn over the reins. But for now, let them know that it is your job to teach them how to use social media and to alert them to any dangers. This might involve removing posts, unfriending people, or managing their settings.

At the same time, be respectful of your children and don’t do anything online that might embarrass them. Depending on your children, posting things about how much you love them or how proud you are of them on their social media accounts might be mortifying. If you want to interact with your children on social media, talk to your children about their feelings first. If they can trust you, they are less likely to balk at your supervision.

It is not enough to rely on net-nanny types of software to monitor your children’s social media usage. Remind children that you will be keeping an eye on where they spend time online and who they socialize with. Many parents and children scoff at eavesdropping, but knowing where your child is and who they are talking to isn’t eavesdropping. It is good parenting—whether in the real world or online. Keep computers and devices in open areas so that online activity can be easily monitored.

It is a good idea to develop a social media contract together that covers what is expected and what the consequences are. This is not just a list of rules, but a chance to counsel with your children and model how to make good choices. The contract can even cover promises you made to your children not to post sappy stuff on their social media accounts. Post the contract up by the computer or elsewhere so that your children see it often. Occasionally, make time to discuss parts of the contract.

For ideas on talking points or what to include in the contract, next week we will be covering what children need to know about social media.

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