Social media is one of the primary ways centennials (or Generation Z) communicate with their peers, local businesses, and the global community. It is almost inevitable that your children will ask to create accounts on major social media platforms as they enter adolescence.
They hear or see videos on TikTok, pictures on Instagram, and stories on Snapchat. Their friends have accounts and they do not want to miss out. They want to be a part of that digital dreamland, but we know it can quickly become a nightmare. Predators, cyberbullying and privacy concerns are at the forefront of a very long list of social media pitfalls.
The question of when they should be allowed to join social media is tricky. No parent wants to see their child left behind, but social media presents a whole new set of challenges. Let’s take a look at how you and your child can take a safe approach to entering the world of social media.
What age should I allow my child to join social media?
Almost every social media outlet requires users to be 13 years old before creating an account. The requirement is in place to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998. Having a minimum age for users is helpful, but there are ways to bypass the age restriction. For example, Instagram specifies 13 years old in the site’s terms of service, but does not ask users for their age during the user registration process.
Many children younger than 13 use these social media services with or without their parent’s permission. In my opinion, the answer to when to join is unique to each child. You know your child best. I would not allow them to create an account until you feel they are mature enough for the responsibilities that come with having a public facing profile online.
My child is ready. Now what?
So you’ve decided to let your child connect with the global community through social media. It would be best if you lay down ground rules from day one. Set the expectations for what is acceptable and the consequences for unacceptable behavior. Have a conversation about personal privacy, reputation, cyberbullying and how they should behave online. Common Sense Media has an excellent resource for parents categorized by age group that you can use to help educate yourself before sitting down with your child.
Now comes the challenge of protecting your kids online and empowering them to make smart choices. In other words, it’s about finding the balance of giving them some personal space while ensuring they don’t do anything stupid.
My research showed a wide array of approaches that ranged from stalking every single post to letting them make their own decisions without much parental involvement. In my opinion, the best practice is one that starts with a lot of oversight that gradually decreases as your child grows and earns your trust.
There were some similarities when it comes to younger teens or new users. Most experts agreed that parents should openly and actively monitor their children’s social media activity for starters. In the beginning, your teen needs to know that you are watching their posts and direct messages. Parents should know the username and password for each social media site during those initial stages. You’ll need that information to check their one-on-one communications with other users on the site. These direct messages are not public, so you won’t see them while scrolling through their feed.
One suggestion was to go through the feed with your teen to make it feel less like “patrolling their activity” and more like something you can do together. Keeping an eye on their posts should be something you do openly, which makes this idea of looking at posts together even more appealing.
Whether you do it together or on your own, I would strongly recommend that you not attempt to be sneaky and do this without their knowledge. Going behind their back will quickly lead to mistrust. Your teen may choose to block you from their account altogether or even go as far as to create a secondary account that they hide from you. Be open and honest with your child about what you’re doing. As time passes and your teen shows you they can make smart decisions, you should feel comfortable monitoring their accounts with less frequency.
Some teens and young adults may be embarrassed by having a parental account following them on social media. Parents can consider creating a fake account of their own to help with the embarrassment issue. Create an account, don’t add much detail to it, and use that to follow your children’s accounts. Let your teen know that the account belongs to you so they do not remove it or block it, thinking that it might be a stranger.
Another option is asking a friend to keep an eye out on your behalf. Your teen will want to quickly build a following, which will translate into them asking trusted adults (aunts, uncles, family friends) to follow them online. Those people can keep you informed if you feel comfortable asking them.
Mistakes are bound to happen. Their brains and decision-making abilities are still developing. I would encourage all parents to keep that in mind as they take this journey. Social media is something your kids most likely will be using for decades in the future. It is essential to instill good habits at a young age.
The question “What exactly is the right age to give your son or daughter access to social media?” is misleading. The answer doesn’t lie in the age of the child. The better question to ask would be, “Is my child developmentally ready for this responsibility?”
As parents, you need to educate your son or daughter on the appropriate use of these various platforms. Everyone involved needs to understand the potential risks when going down this path. Social media can be extremely positive for everyone in the house when the proper support strategies are in place.
Mike Daugherty is a husband, father of three young children, author, speaker, Google Innovator, and possible Starbucks addict. He is a certified educational technology leader who has served in a variety of roles through his 18-year career in public education. Currently, Mike is the director of technology for the Chagrin Falls Exempted Village School district in Northeast Ohio. His blog, More Than A Tech, offers advice and ideas for parenting in a digital world.