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You may have heard that children aren’t allowed to get social media accounts until age 13. The reasons are well-intentioned and make sense.
For example, children could be exposed to mean and dangerous things on social media. The same is true offline. See: Children could be exposed to mean and dangerous things IN LIFE. And they sometimes are.
I get it. As a father of two I’m protective of my daughters and want the best for them. And, of course, I want them to be safe. Online and offline. But I also want them to learn about living, participating and striving. Social media is part of that. Responsibly – of course.
It’s our jobs as parents to guide them, protect them to the best of our abilities but also teach them. Riding a bike can be dangerous, but yet children learn it. Sometimes they fall. Scrapes happen. Often they learn with a parent’s help, who is holding their breath that first time the kid is pedaling away on their own.
Think about when kids start walking. Or learning anything really. We learn the things that we need in life. There are always dangers.
Is 13 late? I would say so. And studies have shown that most 10-12 year-olds are already on social media anyway. Do they see mean things being said? Sure. I saw mean things being said when I was that age in the 1980s and when we didn’t have social media, smartphones or even computers for that matter. I had an electronic typewriter and thought that was high-tech.
Quite frankly, I couldn’t have imagined my entire childhood being “memorialized” on social media. But those were different times. We also didn’t wear helmets to ride bikes, did drink beer at age 14 (I grew up in Germany) and I don’t remember life being so dangerous. I made it this far.
What can parents do to prepare their children for social media?
Here are some ideas:
Participate yourself so you actually know what you are talking about. I remember when I was growing up some adults were saying a certain teeny magazine was inappropriate, but it turned out they never actually had read it.
Talk to your children about the dangers. Yes, we want to shelter our children, but you know even elementary schools now run active shooter drills. You know to be prepared when some nut job decides to shoot up a school and kill people. When I was in elementary school we had fire drills. Ignoring the threat – even though it’s unlikely – won’t make it go away.
Keep an eye on their activity. What are they posting? Who do they follow? Who follows them? Block weirdos. Make your kid’s account private, but be aware that it’s not as fool proof as it sounds. It’s just an additional step of protection.
Talk to them about what is always okay to post (nice selfies), what is sometimes okay to post (pictures of others if they give permission) and what’s never appropriate to post (anything inappropriate).
Follow your kid’s accounts and turn notifications on so you see all of their posts. I even comment on my daughter’s pictures and she replies. She said it’s okay to comment.
Children and adults participating in social media is part of life now. Sure, people have a choice and aren’t required to be social but I would highly recommend it. Share your story, be relevant and offer value to yourself and others.
There are dangers. Sure. But there are dangers everywhere. Manage them like you do in the rest of our lives.