If you’re the parent of a teen or tween, chances are your child has shown an interest in social media. “All of my friends have Facebook pages and Instagram accounts,” they will assure you. While children under 13 are not technically allowed on most social media sites, there are of course ways for them to get around it. Some parents are okay with their kids lying about their ages in order to set up an account; others don’t know that they already did.
No matter how strongly you may believe that constant access to technology and social media aren’t the best ways for kids to spend their time, it’s nearly impossible these days to avoid them altogether. If you do choose to let your child have social media accounts, here are a few simple guidelines you may find helpful:
- Consider that the legal age requirement of 13 is there for a reason, and it’s regulated by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act—which means that web and social media sites must comply with standards regarding what type of information can be collected from users. If Facebook thinks your 10-year old child is 18 because she lied about her age, all bets are off.
- Remember, as a parent, it is your job to keep your children safe, and allowing them to “friend” or chat with strangers is potentially very dangerous. “Stranger Danger” applies to the online world as well, as predators are very clever in how they present themselves. Teach your child about levels of privacy in social media and their importance in prohibiting strangers from viewing their content.
- Think about your individual child and his personality—no one knows him better than Mom or Dad. If he can easily laugh off or ignore others’ teasing or unkind comments toward him, he may be ready to post gamer commentary on YouTube or a video series featuring your cat, Mr. Whiskers. If, however, he’s anxious about his friends’ and classmates’ opinions of him, he probably won’t be ready for internet trolls.
- Familiarize yourself with social media, if you haven’t already. Know where your child is posting and what. Though kids will often push back when parents “friend” them, there really isn’t any other way to monitor their online behavior.
- Set limits as far as what times of day kids can post, and have a detailed conversation (or two, or ten) regarding what you consider appropriate content. Also, discuss consequences if they deviate from the rules and stick to them.
- Keep communication open regarding any challenges they may face on social media. You’ll want to be the first to know if they have encountered a cyberbully and help them navigate through that rough terrain.