When Should My Child Start Using Social Media?
Remember when you were younger and you’d hear your parents start stories with the phrase “Back when I was a kid, we….(fill in the blank) walked miles to school in the snow…had a milkman…or didn’t own a TV? Well, that eye roll you responded with is probably the same eye roll your kid may give to you when you talk about how you grew up without social media.
It’s hard to parent through an experience you can’t relate to yourself. If you’re like me, you first logged into a social media account post High School (Friendster, anyone?) This is also around the age when I got my first cell phone and texting became a thing. We are living in a totally different world now, with new rules (or lack thereof) and there is no clear definition of the right age to start your online presence.
Age thirteen comes up a lot, mainly because kids “must” be this age to sign-up for many websites or apps due to COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). However, there is currently no verification process, so kids can easily lie about their birthday and create an account. One major problem with this? Social media can recognize them as 18 before they actually are, which means their online presence is an adult, when they are still a minor.
But outside of being compliant with privacy law, should thirteen be the age to start social media? Here are some thoughts to consider when making this decision with your child:
Assess Your Kid’s Maturity
Keep in mind that the brain is still developing at 13. This age can be tough on kids socially, with or without social media to navigate on top of it. So think about your kid – is he or she easily distracted? Struggling in school? Handle criticism or feelings of exclusion well? Have an addictive personality?
In addition to these questions, Dr. Kathleen Trainor, a clinical psychologist who focuses on treating anxiety in young people and founder of the TRAINOR Center, recommends also asking the following questions: “Is your child impulsive and likely to act on social media without thinking? Is there a lot of ‘drama’ in your child’s peer group? Is your child, at times, dishonest? These are all signs that introducing social media should wait.” With these questions in mind, you may need to make the call on whether this is right for your child’s development at this time.
Jonathan Wolf, owner and founder of YouTime Coaching, recommends that in addition to assessing your child’s maturity, parents should also gauge their child’s general knowledge of social media as well. “It never hurts to try and assess what your kid has already seen or heard of when it comes to social media, but this requires communication and that is key. Start by asking them if they have ever heard of things like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or any other platform you know is out there. If they seem to be familiar with some of these platforms, let them be the expert and ask for help in understanding what they are all about. This strategy lets you get useful information about how involved they may already be without scaring them away.”
You can’t understand what you don’t know. Educate yourself on what social media sites your child is interested in. Check commonsensemedia.org to learn more about apps, both from the perspective of adults and the kids who use them. (I learned about two alternative social media sites to Facebook or Instagram: Yoursphere and Fanlala. I also got a lot of parental anxiety reading this article about some harmful social media apps causing trouble in schools.)
Jonathan Wolf of YouTime Coaching recommends that parents do their homework. “Go on, dabble in the world of social media and see what it is all about,” he says. “What kind of things do people post, what type of language is being used, what access do you have to information? If you want to know what the benefit/risk ratio is for your kid on social media, then lean in and receive the first-hand experience. Keep in mind that you can adjust privacy, security, and parental settings on your child’s account.” One interesting idea that Jonathan mentioned is trying out a family Facebook account first (“The Wolf Family”), so the focus is on connecting with friends and family while limiting risks.
Is there a limit to what or how many social media sites your kid can use? Is there a certain time of day you permit social media use? It’s important to model good behavior yourself. (I for one know how easily a few minutes on Facebook can turn into an hour!) But limits are tricky. Do you demand passwords to monitor behavior, “friend” or “follow” them online, or leave them be and hope they take your advice on the importance of monitoring their social media use?
Dr. Trainor feels strongly that limits are necessary.” School work, chores, after school activities all come first. If you see those things being neglected because the attraction to social media is so strong, that is a sign your child may not have the internal controls needed to mange this,” she says. “So slowly introduce it, like other freedoms given to your child, and watch carefully to make sure your child is using it responsibly. If not, don’t hesitate to take it away until your child shows more maturity. The use of social media is a privilege, not a right, and can be taken away if you have any concerns.”
Pros and Cons
There is certainly more to add to this list, but here are some major factors to consider when making a decision on social media usage:
- It’s an extension of their life – friendships may form or become deeper.
- They may discover their voice and likeminded people at a time when they feel isolated.
- There is always someone to talk to and offers the chance to see others’ perspectives.
- There is risk of your child feeling left out and excluded socially.
- Cyberbullying becomes a greater threat.
- Kids make mistakes and once something is out there on social media, it’s out there forever.
This powerful article from Psychology Today makes a strong case against social media for middle school age kids.
Social media is a new terrain for kids, as well as their parents, but it’s not going away anytime soon. Making a thoughtful decision about when your kid is ready, and not acting on impulse or pressure, is an important step for the wellbeing of not just your child, but your family too.
Written by Phase2Parenting
PLEASE NOTE: The writers of this article are not medical professionals. The information in this column is not intended and should not be construed as providing medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information and provide a perspective to better understand the lives of themselves and their children. Articles on this website may be opinion based. The articles are not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist, psychotherapist or other licensed medical professional. If you do have health or safety concerns, please get in touch with a healthcare professional.