Preparing your child for social media in middle school

Monday, June 16th, 2014

Cyber Safety for Kids and Families with Joanna and Jodie on The Fish Family Morning Show 103.9FM

Photo: Christi Benz

Photo: Christi Benz

Middle school is a very important and challenging time where kids can feel enormous pressure to be validated by their peer community and then experience extreme insecurity as they begin leading digital lives which amplifies the emotion of adolescence.

Parents can help their middle school student develop their own digital “playbook” wherein they have declared for themselves how they will be in command of their own social network experience. From a Cyber Rites of Passage perspective, by the time kids are in middle school, they are in the “Junior Explorer” stage.

Junior Explorer (11-15 years)

At this point, your child has demonstrated that she understands the importance of setting boundaries regarding who has access to his personal information (phone number, address, where attends school, etc.) and knowing the source of the apps being used. The “family approved list” may be expanded to included the new applications that interest your child as a Junior Explorer, and there should be an understanding to seek parental approval before downloading any new app.

Texting: Use of texting must be with the understanding that you will conduct random checks and that all the communications will be “E” for everyone. Drill it into your young teen that there is NO PRIVACY in the net. As with the Ranger Level, free texting and video chat apps are easily accessed via wireless mobile devices, so be clear with your child about what apps you are approving for her on the family-approved app listing and conduct random checks to verify that your child is successfully honoring the boundaries. Note about convergence: Anymore texting apps are surfacing in different forms of messenger apps much like social media, which do not require a telecommunications account. So texting apps should be treated like social media apps wherein kids are choosing to use in order to stay in communication with their peer community. Examples include KikMessenger and WhatsApp.

Social media: If it is possible to hold off until your child is 16 years old to create a Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, SnapChat or other social media account – that would be ideal. For kids younger than 16, years old check out – a kid friendly, digital hang out designed by kids and governed by cyber security experts to ensure that there is security in their social connections and content is appropriate. If you have chosen to allow your child to establish a presence in the “adult swim” arena (the industry standard is 13 years old), then make sure you are monitoring with random checks the communications and have clear guidelines for who is allowed in your child’s network (friending), what information is not okay to post, parents granted password access, etc.

Explain why anonymous is not cool

Photo: via Flicker

Slenderman meme credited by 2 Wisconsin 12-year-olds for commanding them to commit attempted murder                               Photo: via Flicker

One of the ways kids get into trouble in their on-line world is because the technology can enable powerful anonymous communications – which are inauthentic and dangerous. Anonymity can elicit inappropriate and cruel communications because when we are not accountable for our actions and words there is less inhibition or self control. It is easy to be mean.

During adolescence kids are naturally seeking a sense of identity separate from parents. So it is important to help your child understand that whatever identity and sense of personal style an individual expresses in their community, trustworthy character is essential in order to foster relationships that are safe and real. Insisting on trustworthy values is the only way to stay in command of your own social network experience.

Below are a list of popular websites that are definitely “adult swim” and can expose risk of a bully climate.

  • (anonymous)
  • YikYak (anonymous)
  • CreepyPasta (associated with Slenderman)
  • FireChat
  • Foursquare


See related: Who will your child obey in the social network?

Tips for parents:

1. First be careful to hold off expressing your opinions and judgment about what you see happening on and off line, so your child can feel secure in talking with you about what is happening. The apps you care about are the apps your child is interested in and if you are not perceive as safe, they will not tell you about it.
2. Explain the various ways people lose control to the social network (such as friending strangers, posting personal information or gossiping). Discuss the consequences of such actions and make sure your children know that you will be conducting random checks on devices to monitor for safety.
3. Have your child list the qualities of a good friend and then translate those qualities to on-line behavior.
4. Have your child document their own personal code of conduct that includes who they will include in their personal network, the websites they will visit, and internet safety boundaries established, etc.
5. Establish an approved app list that your child chooses to use and encourage him to discuss any other apps he wants to use before downloading.

For information about setting parental controls for devices and apps, go to:


Joanna Jullien (Photo: Christi Benz)

Joanna Jullien
(Photo: Christi Benz)

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, 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.

Jodie Stevens, hostess of The Fish Family Morning Show 103.9FM  started a blog called, Genuine Life with Jodie Stevens

Jodie Stevens, hostess of The Fish Family Morning Show 103.9FM started a blog called, Genuine Life with Jodie Stevens

Jodie Stevens, hostess of The Fish Family Morning Show on 103.9FM The Fish offers insights and lessons learned about faith and recovery from addiction. Check out her blog, Genuine Life with Jodie Stevens, weekday mornings on the Family Morning Show.

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About Joanna Jullien

Joanna Jullien

Joanna ( and her husband have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from U.C. Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture). Her honors thesis was awarded the Kroeber Prize and funding from National Science Foundation grant. Joanna writes to help parents with the modern-day leadership challenges of raising children. She is a contributing writer for The Granite Bay View, the Press Tribune, the Sacramento Examiner, and editor of Banana Moments.