In today’s computer-driven world, children are becoming computer savvy at very young ages. Many software products on the market are specifically geared toward the preschool crowd. These products can really help give a child a head start on learning skills such as reading and basic mathematics.
However, there’s a big difference between a child using these kid-appropriate tools versus venturing into the broader online world. Yet many parents are allowing their young children to develop an online presence at alarmingly early ages. Some parents are even posting photos of their child on social networking websites before they’re born, starting with their sonogram photo.
Should your kids use social media? How young is “too young” for children to be online? What precautions should parents take to ensure their safety and online reputation, regardless of the child’s age?
Although these questions are ultimately the decision of each parent, this article will discuss some facts to consider when deciding should your kids use social media.
Minimum age for social network websites
Social networking websites have minimum age requirements that must be met before a person can sign up. For example, many social networks, including Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, Reddit, and Snapchat, require that a child be at least 13 years old to use their websites. However, many parents post information and even photos of their children on their own social networking account, in most cases to conveniently share photos and information with family and friends.
Others are motivated to add information about their children simply to add interesting content to their own profiles. In some cases, parents might simply be trying to “keep up with the Joneses,” posting photos of their child because all their friends are posting photos of their children.
Regardless of the reason, it’s important for parents to understand the potential effects and even risks of posting personal information and photos of their child online. After all, it’s never too soon to start thinking about a child’s Internet privacy and reputation.
Online experiences for young children
Eventually the time will come for a child to venture online. Many people think that reading is a prerequisite for online use, but there are actually some good websites available even for pre-readers. If you choose to allow your children to use these websites, you should always monitor the experience.
When a child learns to read and write, you should make sure he or she understands the need for online privacy. For example, if your children wish to write a journal or diary on your home computer, make sure they understand not to share this information online. Likewise, if your children want to use email, provide them with proper guidance on how to use it safely.
Although young children often enjoy using email to communicate with their family members or friends, parents should never allow them to read their email unsupervised. After all, even the best spam filters allow emails to slip by that are inappropriate for children. It’s also crucial that children understand that they should not share their email address with everyone.
Your child’s “digital history”
Although it’s easy to think of online communications as quick and fleeting, they’re actually quite permanent. Those photos you or your child post on a social website today will still be around in a database for years to come, and they have the potential to damage your child’s online reputation in future years. Even if you remove the photo, someone may have already downloaded it and could use it in the future. Parents should think very carefully about the kind of “digital footprint” they’re helping their child create.
Just as is the case with adults, a child’s digital history will follow them throughout his or her lifetime. Starting early to protect your child’s privacy and online reputation is critical as you decide should your kids use social media.
How to talk to your kids about social media
Once your children start venturing onto social media, it’s important to instill some advice on how to navigate the online landscape successfully. Eventually, your children will find themselves having to make decisions online without your supervision. For that reason, they need to be aware of the potential threats and safety concerns:
- Cyberbullying: Children can be cruel, and the effects of bullying are often amplified in social media. Teach your children the importance of not spreading rumors or mean comments about other kids. Likewise, teach your children that they should come to you if someone is bullying them online.
- Private Information: Make sure that your children know to never post their address, phone number, email, or other personal information in any social network. Sharing this kind of information can put them at serious risk of harm.
- Photos: Talk to your kids about the ways photographs can be used to bully or shame other people. Instill in them the importance of being very careful about taking photos and posting them online. Likewise, teach them that they should never share photos that would likely be embarrassing to other people.
- Friending Strangers: Teach your kids not to accept friend requests or respond to messages from people they don’t know in real life. There are unfortunately many predators out there looking to trick children into doing nefarious things. Your kids should be aware of these risks an what to do to mitigate them.