Age should not be the single determining factor in your child having personal social media accounts. The right question should be closer to "based on everything I know about my child, do I believe he or she is ready to handle the pressures, emotions and unpredictable nature of using social media responsibly?"
In order to answer that question well, it requires you to truly know your child, study your child and analyze the behaviors of your child. It requires parents to be observant, engaged and informed.
Here are six questions Protect Young Eyes encourages parents to consider:
- What are your child's friendships and social skills like?
If friendships in real life have any level of drama or tension, those relationships will ignite on social media. Social media can be like gasoline on the fire of cruel behavior. Furthermore, can your child carry on a meaningful, face-to-face conversation with an adult who is not their parent? If not, then they are likely not ready for social media. Your child should be able to order their own food at restaurants, shake hands, look people in the eye and speak confidently to adults. Allow them to master face-to-face interactions long before they are tested through a screen.
- How well does your child obey rules?
Is there a level of deception or defiance in your child? Does your child lie regularly? If yes, then they are not ready for social media.
- Does your child have a strong heart?
Is your child confident and secure in their identity? The ability to overcome the temptation to compare is a necessity on social media, especially for young people. If your child cannot name three positive qualities about themselves, they are not ready for social media.
- Is your child trustworthy?
Is your son or daughter able to be home alone for an extended period of time without contact from you? If your child is not able to handle two hours alone in the real world, then he or she likely cannot handle a few minutes alone in the social media world.
- Is your child at least 13 years old?
Children who begin using social media before age 13 are beginning their journey into social media by lying about their age. Children must be 13 years old to legally activate a personal social media account.
- Have you had direct and frequent conversations about social media?
Discussing sexting, pornography and sexual predators is a must before allowing your child to engage on social media. Before using social media, your child needs to know what sexting, pornography and sexual predators are and what to do when confronted by situations that involve them.Go through every possible "what if?" scenario and ask yourself the following questions: Have we talked about that? Does my child know what to do when they see pornography? Can my child recognize the signs of a sexual predator and be confident in knowing what to do if they are approached online?
At the end of the day, it is important to recognize that each child is different and will reach a level of maturity and preparedness at different times. Open communication and continued discussion once your child has their own social media account is essential to your child's online safety.