Social media and texting has become such a normal part of daily life it can easily be perceived as a right, rather than a privilege. The minimum age for use of social media has been set at 13 years, but it is not possible for media sites like Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and Twitter to enforce that users are truthful about entering their date of birth. Kids at younger ages are tempted to get into the social media mix, which is a concern because in the cyber realm many adult issues are exposed to very young hearts and minds.
Young children don’t understand the consequences of being overly exposed to sex, cruelty and other people’s bragging on line. Some of the issues include:
- Sexual exploitation. Probably the most significant concern is that sexual exploitation and pornography are prolific. Children do not have to try to search for it. It finds them.
- Depression about hearing how other people’s lives appear so much better (based on whatever they are promoting and how many likes they get). The feeling like you are not enough is a serious problem that can lead to mental health issues, and make you vulnerable for bullying.
- Early exposure and access to drugs and alcohol, much of it glorified as a rite of passage, can make substance abuse seem normal.
So much of what kids can become exposed to via social media can inspire shame, and keep children from coming to you with the adult issues on their heart. And children are very capable of shielding parents from things they fear will cause them to loose esteem in our presence. Children do not want to disappoint so they will hide their suffering from you.
By the same token, kids are simply seeking to be included and express themselves. We should expect children to have this desire. So it is important to present social media as a privilege, much like learning to drive a car, and so the message to your eight or ten-year-old about social meida is not “no”, it is “when” and “how”. As the child’s primary teacher, you are in a position to make sure that the kids know when they can expect to have social media experiences, and what kind of responsible behavior and good judgment must be demonstrated in order to receive the privilege.
More importantly, preparing children for social media experiences is such a huge opportunity to bond around family values and to learn about your child’s desires and interests.
Groom your child for a civilized social media experience
Parents can help their children develop the perspective and skills necessary to eventually become responsible users of texting and social media. There will be peer pressure, and you as the parent will feel it too. Be clear that it is your job to prepare your child for social media; it is a grooming process. If you are not grooming your child, it is guaranteed that someone else will be for something that is more than likely not in their best interest. So consider social media grooming as important as providing food and shelter.
- Establish healthy criteria. One approach is to simply hold the line at 13 being the earliest age to create a social media presence on adult sites, conditioned upon having met other criteria such as honoring house rules for cyber safety, and other expectations you determine for good citizenship around the house.
- Transparency should be mandatory, as there is no privacy in the cyber realm. So parents should have password formation in order to conduct random checks. There must also be clarity about ground rules regarding who to friend (i.e., only someone you know in person); and what to share (no gossip or personal data). Also, ground rules about how much time spent on social media and what hours is important to help your child exercise self discipline necessary to be in control of the media.
- Find a kid-friendly media site. YourSphere.com is a great one. This is a safe way to get them started for as young as 10 years old.
- Meet with the parents of your child’s friends and peers to see if there can be agreement about social media boundaries such as honoring the age set by the social media sites, and affirming basic standards for language, who to “friend” in your private network, and privacy settings.
- Share your social media experience with your child. This assumes that your profile and network is rated “E” for everyone. If you expect your child to be transparent with you, then you must be prepared to do the same.
Read more about establishing cyber rites of passage: A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.