This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.
The age at which children start using computers has been trending downward due to the increasing availability of educational and entertainment software products aimed at preschoolers and toddlers.
However, just because your kid has mastered a child-friendly platform like ABCmouse doesn’t mean he or she is ready to navigate the risks (like cyberbullying, stalking, and self-esteem issues) associated with having a social media account.
So, how can you tell if your child is ready to start using social media, and what precautions should you take to protect his or her safety and online reputation?
To help you make the right decision, ask yourself the following questions.
Does your child meet the minimum age requirements?
Social networking websites (and online games that enable users to interact) have minimum age requirements that users must meet before they can sign up. For example, many social networks, including Facebook, Pinterest, TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat, require that a child be at least 13 years old to use their websites.
If your child meets this requirement, then he or she has a better chance of being mature enough to handle the responsibility of a social account. If your child isn’t old enough, according to a particular site’s rules, then you’ll have to weigh your child’s level of emotional and intellectual maturity against the unique risks that the site poses.
Of course, it’s easy for kids to simply enter a fake birthdate and sign up for one of these sites. The good news is that there are ways to lower the chances of your child using social media before he or she is ready.
One of the most effective strategies is to educate yourself about which sites are popular with young people and then use this information to establish regular, ongoing discussions with your child from an early age about the risks and benefits of these platforms.
During these talks, you can also share your expectations regarding when and how your kid will eventually use social media. For example, he or she will only be able to use social media on the family computer after he or she has completed their homework, or he or she can only sign up for one social platform, which you also have access to.
If your child is responsible enough to follow your rules, then he or she is probably ready to handle the responsibility of a social media account.
Does your child know the risks of being on social media?
It’s difficult to defend yourself against an unknown threat. Therefore, you need to let your kids know what they’re up against before they ever go online.
Some potential dangers of using social media include:
- 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.
- Compromised privacy—Make sure that your children know to never post their address, phone number, email, or other personal information on any social network. Sharing this kind of information can put them at serious risk of identity theft or stalking.
- Predators—Teach your kids not to accept friend requests or respond to messages from people they don’t know in real life. Unfortunately, there are many predators out there looking to trick young people into doing things that make them unsafe. Your kids should be aware of these risks and know how to mitigate them.
Only after your child thoroughly understands the risks inherent in online interactions will he or she be ready to open a social media account.
Can you successfully monitor your child’s online activity?
Research shows that children can’t fully understand the consequences of their actions until they are in their mid-20s. As such, even the most responsible children can benefit from parental supervision of their social media interactions.
So, before you decide to let your kids on social media, you need to determine if you have the bandwidth and knowledge necessary to protect them from posting.
If you can’t commit to frequent audits of your child’s posts and messages, whether this is due to a lack of time or not understanding how a platform works, then you might want to hold off letting your child set up social accounts until you have the time to supervise them properly.
Does your child understand the internet is forever?
Although it’s easy to think of online communications as quick and fleeting, those awkward or inappropriate things your kid posts today will still be findable for years to come.
Even if your child quickly sees his or her error and removes an ill-conceived post, someone might have already taken a screenshot of it in the few minutes it was visible. This means they could still repost it, thereby damaging your child’s online reputation (what people find when they search for your kid online) and limiting his or her educational and career options.
Consequently, you should only permit your kid to have an account once you’re confident they understand the impact social media activity can have on their life.
For more information about protecting your child’s online reputation, see Tips for teenage online reputation management.
Does your child know proper online etiquette?
Before your child starts engaging on social media, it’s important to teach him or her how to successfully navigate the online landscape without compromising his or her safety or privacy or that of other people.
A good way to do this is to have them stop and T.H.I.N.K. before posting or sharing anything:
- T: Is it True?
- H: Is it Helpful?
- I: Is it Inspiring?
- N: Is it Necessary?
- K: Is it Kind?
If your child answers “no” to any of these questions, then he or she should not share that content publicly. In fact, knowing what not to post on social media is a key indicator that your kid might be ready to open his or her own account.
Now that you know what factors are involved in your child being ready for a social media account, you can safely make a decision that works for your family.
You can find more information about how to keep your child safe online in the following articles: