is-my-child-ready-for-social-media

How do I know if my child is ready for social media?

So your child is badgering you for an Instagram account? Eager to get snapping on Snapchat or become a music video pop star on Musical.ly?

Because, EVERYONE else is allowed. And of course your child is the ONLY one in the whole school and you are ruining their whole social life and they are going to get completely left behind in the friendship, social and technological race.

Of course this is not necessarily the case, but depending on a child’s age and stage of development, there may well be some element of truth to the desperate pleas.

So how do we decide? Is it simply easiest to use the age recommendations set out by the creators?  For some this can be a really good ‘out’. But it can also be tricky. Musical.ly for example is rated at 12+ but still has all the suggestive themes and profanity of a music video clip and some may not see it as appropriate for even a 12 year old to be live streaming music videos from their bedroom.  Commonsense.org rates it is closer to 16+, but of course we know a good majority of the users are tweens well under 13. Facebook is rated by the itunes store as 4+ but you have to be 13 to have an account as the American COPPA laws require this by law (it is not the law in Australia). Instagram is also rated as 13+ but we also know a vast majority of users are well under this age bracket. So yes these recommendations are there for a reason, but it seems they are certainly not being obeyed and sometimes it comes back to our individual values and what we think is appropriate for our child.

And some of those under age users are doing ok and not getting in to any ‘trouble’. Guided by the close monitoring of parents they are able to learn valuable lessons as they go and set themselves up with the critical thinking skills and behaviours to take them forward when parents no longer have so much control and input. Some of those under age kids however, are not doing so well. They are ill equipped to handle the demands of a very transparent and connected world. Some kids (and adults) who are well above the recommended ages are also doing a really bad job hanging out online. So age alone may not always be the most helpful deciding factor.

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.

You may also like to look a little more closely at some of the kids popular apps: Instagram, Musical.ly and Snapchat. Or you may like to have an internet contract to help prompt some conversation and lay down some accountability.

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One Response to How do I know if my child is ready for social media?

  1. Rachel October 5, 2016 at 7:34 am #

    Great tips Martine. We’ve always asked to be friends, but we don’t like or comment on any of their social media things. We tell them in person. It’s worked well for us, but I think you just have to keep talking to your kids. The harder thing as they get older is teaching them what to post…

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