Many parents and carers wonder when is the best age to let their child have a social media account. Some don’t want their children to have underage accounts. Others may have decided their child is not quite ready for social networking, even if their child is begging them. Once children reach secondary school, they’re likely to come under growing peer pressure to stay in touch with friends online.
What to do?
So what is a parent to do when faced with the pleas of the ‘about to be socially outcast’ offspring?
Of course it depends on many factors and here are some of the questions you should be asking yourself first.
How old is my child? But even more than that, how socially, emotionally and developmentally mature is my child?
Are they able to cope with the rigours of comments that may be less than favourable or supportive or even downright horrific?
Do they understand the implications of privacy and the sorts of information that needs to remain private?
Are they able to determine that the person they are talking to is really the person they are talking to?
Are they able to think critically when they are online and determine for themselves whether something is true and correct?
Can they recognise and avoid negative and unhelpful interactions?
Do I as a parent have a good understanding of the way this social network is used? What are its risks? Can I make it more secure? Does my child completely understand its workings?
What do I need to know to teach them the skills for positive interactions?
Got all that down pat? Then here are a few rules that might help to make the transition to social media user a little safer and smarter.
Rules to make it work
I have a password to your account and can do spot checks at any time.
I see and approve any photo you post before it goes online
You need to maintain interests away from the screens, other pursuits, friends, pastimes that don’t involve a device
You need to be able to maintain reasonable time limits that we can discuss and agree upon together.
You need to respect any family rules that are enforced, such as no devices to the dinner table or in the bedrooms. These family rules may differ depending on your family values, but whatever you come up with, they need to be adhered to.
You need to know your friends or followers in real life and not accept people unknown to you personally.
You need to ask permission from your friends before you post photos or videos that they appear in.
You need to never intentionally hurt, embarrass or bully anyone online.
You need to respect yourself and be aware of the image you are presenting to the rest of the world.
You need to feel safe and comfortable enough to come to me should things go wrong. Because I will not judge, I am here to teach. You will make mistakes, I am here to help you learn from them. You can trust me to take the time to understand the challenges you will no doubt face interacting and sharing online. I do this as I want the mistakes you make to be the little ones that help you grow and learn, and not the big ones that have life changing consequences.
So is my child ready for social media?
If you have come to terms with the above factors, and you feel you can help ensure it is a positive experience, then start small. Take one social media they are keen on and get to know it. Monitor both your child in real life as well as the online profile and feed and make adjustments as you go.
Use the time when they are starting out to teach them the skills and behaviours they will need. Use open, honest, non judgemental conversations little and often to ensure the ongoing learning, guidance and support they will need to get them through their adolescent years of socialising online.