What Parents Need to Know About Social Media for Kids
There’s a lot of information out there on the worldwide web, here’s what you need to know before you give your children access.
on April 28, 2023
It seems like just yesterday you were the one posting pictures of your child on Facebook or Instagram, from their first Halloween costume to their first soccer game, and now your little one is old enough to ask for a social media account of their own. Social media for kids continues to evolve, and the rules for how to use social media have certainly changed, too. While your kids may just use social media to post their favorite family photos, it’s important for them to be educated on topics like cyberbullying, privacy and guidelines for posting photos and sending direct messages.
There’s a lot to unpack here, especially when Instagram, TikTok and Facebook for kids feels like a completely different ballgame from social media for parents (and what in the world is BeReal?!). If you’re looking for ways to set healthy boundaries with your children around social, read on for advice that’ll help lead discussions with your kids.
P.S. If your kids are interested in social media in part to post and look at photos, consider getting them a photo book subscription! If you have a young photographer in the house, selecting their photos each month and printing them into a book that gets delivered to your front door could be a nice compliment to the social media use that you agree upon with them!
What age should children join social media?
It’s not atypical for kids to be chomping at the bit, excited to share funny and trendy videos and topics on apps like TikTok and Instagram. While it’s important to note your child’s self-esteem can be affected at any age, access to social media should really depend on their maturity level. According to the Child Mind Institute, “Some experts and parental groups recommend waiting until kids are at least in the eighth grade to let them have access to social media [and they] agree that when you do allow access to social media, it’s important to monitor what kids are posting on it.”
So, how do you know if they’re mature enough?
“When they are ready will depend on things like their ability to read social cues, their impulse control, and their vulnerability to criticism or rejection. If a tween has a particularly hard time disengaging from continuously stimulating things like video games, they might have trouble resisting the rabbit hole of social media.”
Dave Anderson, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, recommends testing the waters in middle school, so parents can supervise their child’s first experiences on social media before giving them full reigns on any platform. “If you wait until high school to give permission, they’re not likely to let you monitor their social life. You will never know what their online world looks like. And you will never be able to kind of navigate that with them.”
Speaking of age, many social media websites require a minimum age to sign up, or to view certain content. Make sure your kids know they cannot join any social media platforms if they are under the minimum age, and to not lie about their age to see inappropriate content.
Before your kids enter the world of social media, make sure you’ve warned them about the dangers, or negative consequences, that can happen.
What is cyberbullying?
An important topic you’ll need to cover with your kids is cyberbullying, including how to recognize it and how to prevent it. Kids Health explains that, “Through cyberbullying, kids can be teased or harassed online. In fact, cyberbullying is considered the most common online risk for teens, and is linked to depression, loneliness, and even suicide in both the victims and the bullies.”
It’s important for your kids to understand cyberbullying since it takes a slightly different form than the kind of bullying they may observe in person. According to Stop Bullying, a federal resource managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, cyberbullying has a few telltale signs that kids should recognize, which are:
Persistent – Online communication can occur 24 hours a day, so it can be difficult for kids facing cyberbullying to find relief.
Permanent – If not reported and removed, online information can exist forever. A negative online reputation, including for those who bully, can impact college admissions, employment, and more.
Hard to Notice – Because it’s happening on a phone or computer, teachers and parents may not see cyberbullying taking place. With it being harder to recognize, it’s important for young people to be able to spot it, as well, and know when to notify a trusted adult.
How should I keep conversations open around social media use?
Make it easy for them to communicate with you, whether that’s in-person or in a text message. Creating a safe space to discuss personal topics or boundaries is important. You can use a family messaging app like HeyFam, and create a room that’s sole purpose is to act as a safe space to ask questions, set guidelines and talk honestly about social media—without getting lost in a group thread about soccer practice or grocery lists. This way, both you and your kids can discuss, and clearly look back on, the do’s and don’ts of social platforms.
What do kids need to know about privacy?
Your kids may not realize what information they’re revealing online, whether through privacy and location settings, or from photos or even usernames. A selfie can potentially reveal their school name and a birthday post can reveal their date of birth. “Revealing this type of information can make them easy targets for online predators and others who might mean them harm…Many newer apps automatically reveal the poster's location when they're used. This can tell anyone exactly where to find the person using the app,” warns Kids Health.
What should they know about deleting a post?
If your child posts something they later wish to delete, that doesn’t mean the photo, message or post is gone (especially if someone else screenshots before they delete). Posting an inappropriate comment or photo can negatively impact their image, and potentially cause problems down the line when a potential employer (or undergraduate admissions office) performs a background check—many of which now also include checks on social media accounts.
How do I start setting healthy boundaries with my kids around social media?
Before they begin creating their social media profiles, it’s important to set clear expectations of what your child can and cannot do on social media. This includes which apps they’re allowed to download, privacy settings, screen time limits, who they’re allowed to communicate with, and what types of messages and photos they’re allowed to share.
“From the beginning, it’s important to have an open and honest conversation with your children on what social media is and what it can be used for. Ask why they’re interested in having an account on a particular platform and what they want to use it for,” according to the Cleveland Clinic. And don’t stop talking after your initial conversation. “If you hear about a popular TikTok trend or that a newsworthy story is trending, talk to your children about what they think and what they’ve seen,” says child psychologist Kate Eshleman, PsyD.
Remind them that it’s important to speak up if they see something inappropriate, from photos to cyberbullying, without worry about punishment. Set clear guidelines on what they are allowed to share and when, and if they need your permission to post anything. A good rule of thumb is never to comment or post something you’d be embarrassed for your parents (or grandparents!) to see.
How should I handle my kid’s social media password?
While social media access should depend on your child’s maturity level, the Child Mind Institute recommends “having your child’s password as a condition of allowing them access to the app, and regularly discussing what they’re posting. The goal is to help them learn the do’s and don’ts of posting rather than hoping they’ll figure out what’s appropriate and what’s not.”
What about mental health and social media?
And if your child experiences or has ever experienced mental health issues like depression, “experts recommend extra caution as social media algorithms tend to serve kids content that reflects their mood, and can perpetuate negative feelings,” according to the Child Mind Institute.
Should I be worried that they’ll become addicted to their phone?
This is especially true due to the time drain that can occur when endless scrolling for ten minutes becomes two hours. “Kids sometimes spend so much time on social media that they don’t have enough hours in the day for doing homework, reading, exercising, sleeping, spending time with loved ones, or enjoying the outdoors,” explains Kids Health. Setting time limits on social media scrolling is also important (ask them to set a “screen time” limit if they use an iPhone).
You may want to keep your kids to a two hour limit on screen time every day, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. “It’s not always just the screen time that’s the problem,” Dr. Eshleman tells the Cleveland Clinic. “It’s what the screen time is in place of.” It’s about your kids making time to talk at the dinner table, playing outside with friends and getting other key face-to-face interactions.
So what’s the right answer? The truth is, only you can decide how and when to introduce your children to social media. Social media for kids continues to change, especially as new platforms emerge (and new trends crop up on Instagram and TikTok). While parents may use social media to post favorite family photos, social media for kids continues to be a place to connect with their peers and other communities that share the same interests. Remember, you know your child best, and if you have any other concerns, consult with their physician for any guidance you may need. You got this!
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