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?