Kids and Social Networking: When It’s Okay and When It’s Not
“When can I have a Facebook, mommy?” is what my then six-year-old son asked me last year. Apparently there was a girl in his Kindergarten class who had a Facebook account and was talking about it at school. I told him that he was simply too young and perhaps this girl’s parents felt she was responsible enough to have one. Maybe she was mature for her age and they were monitoring her Facebook activities very closely. But in the end, the reasons didn’t matter; I was not that girl’s mother and my son would have to wait until he was older. What is good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander. Although my son is a good kid, he is in no way capable enough to handle all of the factors that come along with having a Facebook page.
With social networking services such as Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and Facebook becoming more and more popular, it’s not a surprise that kids of all ages want to engage and connect using these platforms. It’s become fun for kids, especially teenagers, to take photos and post them. With Justin Bieber, One Direction and Twilight-mania gripping the hearts of adolescent girls everywhere, finding Tumblr and Instagram pages dedicated to these objects of their affections can be easily found on the Internet. Facebook allows these kids to post their thoughts and share the good times (and the bad).
But when is it okay for your child to hop on the social networking wagon and when is it not? The answer is simply, it depends on the individual child. My older daughter just turned fifteen and currently has both a Facebook and Instagram account; she just started Pinterest last month. My daughter was not allowed to have a Facebook page until she started middle school. Since she was a good student and was knowledgeable enough about the dangers of the internet, her father and I were comfortable with the idea of her having access to Facebook. However, we explained to her that we will have access to her account at all times and if we saw anything sinister, her account would be deleted immediately. If she went onto her page without permission or her grades slipped, her account would be suspended for a period of time. With all of the privacy settings and security procedures in place, we let our daughter enter the world of Facebook and can honestly say we haven’t encountered any problems. Again, my daughter has always had a good head on her shoulders so I couldn’t say I was surprised we had no issues.
So now that my middle child is showing interest in social networking, I realized that I had some serious thinking to do. None of my children are the same. Even at the age my son is now, my daughter was slightly more mature and savvy than he is. However, my son is more social and definitely a rule follower. So I was a bit torn when my son, upon his 7th birthday, asked again about Facebook. I finally asked him why he wanted an account. “Is it because of that girl?” I asked. It turns out, all he wanted to do was play the games. So now my son is a member of National Geographic’s Animal Jam. We also let him play games on Nick Toons and Disney.com. Problem solved!
So if you are still undecided about allowing your kids to partake in social networking, here’s some tips I learned:
1. Find out why they want the account.
Whether it’s Twitter or Tumblr, your child should have a reason for wanting to have access to a particular social network. My daughter wanted an Instagram account because she loves taking photos and posting them. She photoshops and then turns the images into clever memes. It’s just her thing and I have to admit, she’s really good at it.
Yet, if you’re still not comfortable with your child having an account, suggest alternatives like I did with my son. If Instagram is a no-go, install a photoshop program or app; have your child use one of those applications and then offer to post the finished photo where family and friends can see it.
2. Establish rules.
Let your child know that social networking comes with great responsibility so rules must be established. If those rules are broken, the account privileges will simply be revoked. Be specific and detailed; write them down if you have to. That way your child can’t say “well you didn’t tell me I couldn’t do that”. If I had a dollar….
3. Monitor their activity, often.
I have the usernames and passwords to all of my daughter’s accounts. She knows at anytime, I can go in and see what’s she’s doing. She knows I will delete anything inappropriate and I can remove her account in the blink of an eye. I’m also a “friend” on all of her accounts so I can see what’s she posting just by logging on to my account. She knows I’m not really a “friend” but her mother and will be on her like white on rice.
4. That old “but my cousin has a Facebook account” isn’t going to work on me.
Explain to your children that just because a friend, classmate, cousin or even a sibling has a social networking account, doesn’t mean that he or she is going to get one. Again, no one knows your child better than you. If you don’t feel your son or daughter is mentally ready for a Facebook page or an Instagram account, then go with your gut and say “no”.
5. Make sure your child knows social networking is a privilege, not a right.
I can giveth and I can taketh away. If being on Pinterest is taking up too much of their time and starts to interfere with their ability to do homework and chores, then you have a problem. Tell your child that unlike, school and housework, social networking can take a backseat. My daughter knows that if she’s been on Instagram for hours and her homework is not done, there are consequences. Her homework is something she must do, her Instagram is something we let her do. Big difference.
Do you have children who use social networking? Share your thoughts.
RECESS wants to hear from you! Become a Contributing Blogger or Featured Blogger. You don’t have to be a professional writer to have a voice.
Leave your comment below, or email us your response or submission below for consideration as Featured or Syndicated Content.