It can be a worrying moment when your child asks if they can open their first social media account. Questions abound. How will SM affect their life? How will it affect your life? How will it affect your Wi-Fi usage? Rest assured that simply creating a SM account won’t automatically put your child at risk of becoming a self-proclaimed ‘influencer’ or a connoisseur of dog-filters. Nor will they necessarily become an online food critic with a blog exclusively reviewing your cooking. There definitely are real risks however, and here we will address some important considerations for parents of young people entering the volatile world social media.
- How much is too much social media for our kids?
- Social media and the teen brain – helpful or harmful?
- Do your kids have social skills?
Letting your child have their own SM account is about giving them control of their own online presence. It is essential that they learn how to navigate this at some point in their life. The big question is when.
Don’t be too early
We urge parents not to give their children access to social media too early for several reasons –
- Once a child has their own SM presence, they will have one forever
- The world really is simpler without having to manage your reputation and social interactions both online and offline
- Likes, notifications, messages and friend requests can release an amazingly powerful cocktail of feel-good chemicals into the brain, thus making SM incredibly addictive
- Plus, all the other parents will unfriend you when their kids start asking to be on Instagram because your kid is
There are some really valid reasons why you would want to shield your child from social media issues for as long as possible. However…
Don’t be too late
Because what we all know about adolescents is that if they perceive themselves to be the ‘last’ one able to do something, or they are ‘never’ allowed to take part in what everyone else seems to be doing, then they will find ways of doing that stuff anyway, and you won’t be able to help them navigate it well. They may create an account without you knowing, which puts them at risk of being completely unsupervised and you miss out on negotiating the terms of having an account.
As your child grows up, more and more of their social life will be managed online. As parents and caregivers, you don’t want your children to miss out on developing social skills or learning how to handle themselves online. This is the world that young people are growing up in. You could throw them into it early and hope they cope. You could ban them from using it all together. Or you could teach them how to navigate it well, with your support and guidance.
So, if your child has come of age social-media-wise (usually somewhere between year seven and year nine), what wisdom will you impart as they enter this online reality?
Here are some of our thoughts.
Introduce them to the basics of social media
Before they have their own personal account, you could co-create a social media account for the family pet or a pot plant (as in, a potted plant!). This is like having training-wheels on the social media experience and it will give you both an opportunity to have good conversations about how to use social media well. It can be a fun and safe introduction to the world of newsfeeds, stories and direct messages. They will experience the stress of picking a cool and original username, like @RightAboutMeow, and enjoy scrolling around and posting pictures with your guidance. Learning the basics of how to add friends, block users and report posts, as well as knowing when to use their/they’re/there are all essential skills for being SM literate.
Start with one platform
It is overwhelming to manage the notifications coming from FB, Messenger, Snapchat, emails, phone calls and relentless texts informing you that your data has run out, txt YES to buy more. And that’s as an adult! So keep it simple when your child is first starting out. Keeping it basic is the best way to introduce them to the complex world of SM.
- One app (maybe Facebook or Instagram, probably not Tinder)
- One block of time per day to be on that app
- One account
Use this contract as a way to negotiate the terms of your child’s first account.
Encourage them to use social media for more than socialising
There are some amazing things you can do with SM. Your child could –
- Take a photo every day for a year and post them on Instagram
- Film three seconds of every day for a year and at the end of the year edit it into a video
- Make memes and share them with the family
- Organise a protest
- Organise your 40th (50th?) birthday party
- Create and post encouraging quotes to help people through their day
- Create a group where people are banned from using the letter E
Social media is used well when you aren’t simply consuming other people’s content; rather you’re producing creative and positive content for other people to consume.
Be a good human
This is the only essential life-skill.
I think Jesus explained it with the most clarity when he said, “Treat others as you want to be treated” (Luke 6.31), or, if he said it today, “Tweet others as you want to be tweeted”. The world would be a better place if everyone followed this basic principle, and that includes the online world of social media. Not everyone subscribes to this teaching, but Mahatma Ghandi also weighed in when he said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”.
Just teach your kids to be good humans. It makes everything better for everyone.
What parents need to know –
Parents need to understand that social media is more than just entertainment for young people. It means connection. It can also mean acceptance or belonging or not missing out on the invite to Dave’s pool party. For most young people, their online life and their offline life are not separate worlds, they are one and the same.
What your child needs to know –
Young people need to know they can always talk to you about anything. If they see something they don’t want to see, or are being harassed or bullied, they need to know that they can tell you about it. Some children won’t tell their parents for fear of losing their SM access as a consequence. Therefore they need to be certain that telling you is the right thing to do. They won’t be in trouble and your first response won’t be taking their access to social media away. It may be what needs to happen, but you will have an open discussion first.