They’ve mastered educational apps and Facetiming with Grandma, but at what age are kids ready for email and social media accounts like Facebook? For those of us who grew up in the dawn of the Digital Age (and we’re assuming that’s most of us), we are in unchartered waters where matters of social media and kids are concerned. With requests for internet access coming at earlier ages than ever before, here are some tips to determine if your child is ready to enter the online social world.
#1 Find out why your child is interested in social media.
“Why does my child need an email or social media account now?” is the first question you should ask, says Jay Thompson, Head of Educational Technology at GEMS World Academy (Singapore). “Are they making the request because all their friends have accounts? Or are there key educational and developmental benefits for going online now?” he adds. If your child’s study group or swim team communicates via WhatsApp, this may be a compelling reason to grant access to this social app. If your child wants to download Snapchat to send casual videos to friends, it may not be time to jump into social media.
#2 Don’t rush it.
Your child may understand the benefits of going online, but can he or she appreciate the risks? (Can we, for that matter? But that’s another story.) Can your child understand the pitfalls of an ill-advised Facebook post or sharing personal details with strangers?
If so, the timing may be right, says Jay. He says that if you feel your child is not ready, don’t feel pressured to get them online. Once an account is started, taking it away is usually harder than postponing access. Furthermore, rushing into online access without proper consideration could put your child at risk, he warns.
#3 Talk, talk, talk to your child.
If you think your child is ready, create an open channel for two way communication. Sit down with them and discuss what the benefits and risks of going online could be.
Jay suggests setting clear expectations and guidelines. Decide which social media platforms are to be used, when they should be used and when they should not (for example, in homework time, during meals, at bedtime and more). Work together to create a written list of mutual expectations and guidelines.
“The key is to discuss and be willing to negotiate – that way, you’re more likely to empower your child to make the right decisions and seek support when needed,” says Jay.
Ground rules to get you going
Children’s privacy is important, but let your child know that internet access is a public, family affair. Jay suggests the following ground rules: No family device is the property of one person. Computers, iPads and iPhones are family items that are open and usable by all. Share all passwords. Turn on internet filters and block adult content. Add your child as a friend on social media. Familiarise yourself with your child’s social media and online activities. For more tips, go to the FBI’s Parents Guide to Internet Safety or visit the Wired SAFETY website.
Want more? See our Kids section!