Kids and Social Media- At What Age is it Okay?

It’s hard enough to be a parent. But these days, parents also have to worry about what their kids might be doing on the internet. Social media is a draw for kids… it’s cool, it’s hip, it’s so easy to share information- instantly. It’s appealing. And it’s gotta be tough to resist. So when is it okay for kids to become active on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook?  And at what age is it okay for kids to have their own cell phones and get absorbed in “texting.”

Case in point: I’m super active on both Twitter and Facebook, and I have an iPhone that is attached to my hip. My son observes my activities and is obviously intrigued.  I have a business, so checking my phone often is a must, and I use social networking primarily for my website, but I’ve also met quite a few “friends” on these sites. I’m at an age where I have common sense. I don’t share a large amount of personal information with everyone, I share vague information about where I live, and I certainly am very careful about who I choose to meet in person. Are kids that savvy?

My own child is still quite young (10). He finally has an email address (which we have full and complete access to) and he will not have his own cell phone until- as we tell him- we NEED him to have a cell phone. Although he has asked, he is not allowed to have a Twitter account, and Facebook is not an option either.

A search on the internet found this story:

The principal of Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, New Jersey urged parents to take down their children’s online profiles on Facebook and elsewhere.  The main problem, he wrote, is that tweens do not have the resilience to withstand internet name-calling.  ”They are simply not psychologically ready for the damage that one mean person online can cause,” he said.  ”The threat to your son or daughter from online adult predators is insignificant compared to the damage that children at this age constantly and repeatedly do to one another through social networking sites,” he wrote.

I can only imagine the scenarios that might have taken place if Facebook was an option back when I was in high school.  Gossip was horrible and hurt so many people.  The internet could have made it worse.  Much worse.

All of it scares me.  As much as I talk to my child about the dangers of the internet, etc., I feel like the dangers are still there and that my child is still going to be vulnerable to them.

Here are some things to think about when your kids do become active on the internet:
1.  Talk with your children about the websites that they’re using.  Ask them which websites they’ve signed up to participate in lately.  Stay informed and encourage your kids to be open with you.
2.  Set up internet/computer rules- perhaps placing the computer somewhere in the house where the computer isn’t so private, and setting time limits for computer-usage.
3.  Most sites set a minimum age of 13 to sign up for participation.  This might be a good rule for you to enforce at home too.
4.  Stay educated about the internet, what your kids have access to, and which websites they are interested in.
5.  Advise your kids not to use their full names on websites, be careful about sharing personal information, and use safe, hard-to-decipher passwords.
6.  Have a hard and fast rule that meeting someone that your child has gotten to know on the internet is not an option (and share all of the reasons why…)  It’s best if you can encourage your child to communicate on the internet only with people they actually know.  Internet friendships are not healthy for kids.
7.  Sharing photographs can be dangerous.  Some photographs will give out personal information, even when you’re not meaning to- (i.e.: school sweatshirts, signs in the background, geographical detail, etc.)
8.  Teach your child about cyberbullying.  It’s important that if they feel as if they are being bullied by someone else online that they communicate that with someone.  Let them know that’s not okay and that’s it’s okay to speak up about it.
9.   Discuss with your child what “good judgement” means and the consequences of poor judgement.  Make sure they know about legal action that can happen with inappropriate content.  The website Social Media for Kids offers some really greattips for kids who are active in social media.
10.  And lastly, let your kids know that you’ve set up rules to protect their safety.  If they choose not to follow the rules, you may have to consider shutting down pages they’ve opened (you can contact administrators of FB and Twitter, etc. and make this happen if your kids are under age).  Be open with your kids about how much privacy you’re willing to let them have.  If they have opened a FB or Twitter account, you should be able to see what they’re posting.

How are you handling the lure of social media with your own kids?  Are they active in it already, and is there an appropriate age to consider?

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9 Responses to “Kids and Social Media- At What Age is it Okay?”

  1. 1

    danielle — October 4, 2011 @ 6:51 AM

    Most sites also have a minimum age, and may cancel any accounts if the TOS is violated. Google is doing this for accouts where the child is under their minimum age (12, 14? I can’t remember). And they are locking everything- gmail, picasa, g+. I’ve heard of facebook doing something similar as well. So that is something else to consider.

    In my own personal opinion, I think 13 or 14 for social media (twitter, facebook, g+). Kids that age are slightly more mature and, one would hope, better able to understand te ramifications. And that nothing they post is private and can be used without their permission or against them.

    • Lori Lange replied: — October 5th, 2011 @ 9:34 AM

      Yes, the minimum age is there… but kids know they can lie about their age and get set up. Hate to see that, but it happens all the time.

      I know that at 13/14 I’m sure I would have thought I was mature enough for this sort of thing, but gossip hurts. It’s hard to avoid when you end up in the midst of it all.

  2. 2

    Jessica — October 4, 2011 @ 8:24 AM

    Great post Lori! I am going to send this to my Sister In Law. She let her son have a Facebook and he is only 9. I worry about all of the things you mentioned, and more.

    Even as an adult, I walk that line of how much is too much to share!

    • Lori Lange replied: — October 5th, 2011 @ 9:35 AM

      Glad to help!

  3. 3

    Tabitha Hunter — October 5, 2011 @ 8:14 AM

    Lori,

    Thank YOU! I believe I am the ONLY parent of an 8th grader who does not allow her to have a facebook. She is a great kid who makes awesome choices and I trust her, however, it is a recipe for disaster and unnecessary drama. I get my daughter won’t be spouting this garbage but I do not want her continually reading it either or worse possibly being on the receiving end of it. She has a cell phone and my point is she sees them all day at school, she has them at her fingertips 24/7 via text or they are at our house, why open up a battlefield for bullying or inappropriate talk? She respects my opinion but really struggles with it as seriously everyone has one. (To be honest I struggle sometimes to stay strong on the topic) The best part is…all the kids choose to be at my house everyday rather than anyone else’s. Even those who have parents at work or elsewhere and they could undoubtedly make poor choices and have more freedom in a house with no adults home, they choose to come to my house. Where I am the “fun” Mom even though I am definitely the strictest Mom, they would rather belly up to my bar and have a homemade snack and tell me all about their day. Makes me so happy and even more set to stand my ground. My son who is also 10 does not have a cell phone yet as we don’t ever leave him without an adult.

    • Lori Lange replied: — October 5th, 2011 @ 9:36 AM

      Congrats to you for standing firm! If and when my 10 year old takes the plunge into facebook and/or Twitter, you can bet that we will have complete and full access to his accounts.

      I love that you make your house the fun place to be. Hope that’s the case when my guy gets older too!

  4. 4

    Rosa — October 5, 2011 @ 8:38 AM

    I can’t agree with you more! I know that kids these days are getting more and more tech-savvy than what we were like at their age, but with all this new technology comes greater responsibilities. Unfortunately, the kiddos (and parents) don’t realize that. They think it’s cool and fun; they forget the consequences (good and bad). They don’t understand how dangerous the Internet is. It’s a very powerful tool, but only if it used correctly. Otherwise, it can be oh-so-dangerous! I tell my students that whatever they put out there (on Facebook, Twitter, etc.), it is permanent. You can NEVER delete it. I try and avoid putting my little one’s picture online as much, especially on FB, because it makes me worried about who all are looking at her AND the fact that FB owns those pictures.

    I’m not going to allow my child(ren) access to social media until they are about 14 (starting high school) with non-negotiable rules, set guidelines, and of course, complete and total access for the parents. If they need to hide something from us, then either we or they are doing something wrong.

    Thanks for such a thought-provoking post! I go through this every year with my students. Someday, I hope that social media is a tool for the kiddos, and not a “contest” to see who has the most friends.

  5. 5

    Janet — October 5, 2011 @ 9:21 AM

    Agreed. Children are available to the masses now like never before. However, even for those that don’t allow their children the use of such sites, that doesn’t mean that their children don’t have them- despite what mom and dad say, the internet is available at friends homes and libraries, all without the direct supervision that is needed- and some kids sneak online despite parental rules at home. As parent’s, we not only need to educate our children fully on the possible dangers of social media (as you have), but have a solid, interactive, and trusting relationship with our children so that they don’t feel the need to seek out the use of social media. Make sure that their friends parents are aware of your guidelines and expectations as well.

  6. 6

    Kelly — November 6, 2011 @ 1:11 PM

    Thank you for this. Sometimes I feel like the only parent who won’t allow her kids to have a Facebook account until they are at least 13. (I told my kids it’s not even up for discussion until they are 13 – which is the minimum age Facebook allows). I just don’t understand how some parents can tell their kids it’s “ok” to lie about their age to have a Facebook account. So many parents tell me that so many of the kids are on there. Well, when your child wants to drink at 15 because all the other kids are doing it, is that ok? I don’t think so. As a parent, it is my job to enforce rules, not change them. Facebook actually has some built-in protections for children under the age of 18. This protects them from being searched for. Also, I have witnessed my 10 year old niece completely abusing Facebook because she doesn’t know better. She became “friends” with Miley Cyrus. I guarantee this wasn’t really Miley and was likely some pedophile looking to get close to young kids. I felt like I was butting in, but I did contact my sister and let her know about this since she was not monitoring her daughter’s activity at all.
    Thanks for the article!