by Michele Kambolis
From selfies and memes, to hashtags and tweets, the landscape in which our children connect, communicate, and express their identity has been forever altered in the advent of social media.
Many parents are left wondering how on earth they can possibly protect their children from the pitfalls and snares of the online world, while others wonder if they can ban it from their child altogether. Turning to the social media platforms themselves is of very little help, their guidelines are flimsy at best and often completely absent. However, this may not be all bad. They are largely placing the decision of a child’s social media readiness exactly where the jurisdiction should be, firmly in the hands of parents.
Here are some important points to consider before allowing your child to start using social media platforms:
1) Age should not be the deciding factor. When it comes to evaluating whether your child is ready to enter the complex realm of social media, age should not be the deciding factor. The typical age minimum of 13 years for social media platforms such Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat was originally used to address child online privacy protection, prohibiting websites and online services from collecting information from a child under the age of 13 without parental consent. The rest of us continued to adopt this as a guideline assuming it was informed based on the psychological needs of children.
2) The role of self-control and peer pressure. Two factors are shown to impact whether a tween is able to manage social media in a healthy way: Self-regulation, and susceptibility to peer pressure. The research tells us that if a tween can control her behaviour without your external control and can stand their ground with peer pressure, that bodes well for their ability manage social media sensibly.
3) Development rules over age. Your child’s developmental level is a significant factor when it comes to making decisions about social media readiness. Their ability to problem-solve, understand cause-and-effect, and level of emotional maturity should all be part of a parent’s decision-making process. It’s far safer for tweens to face the challenges of social media when (and only when) they have the capacity to navigate the social and safety challenges that go right along with it.
4) Talk openly and enter your child’s world. Think carefully about your family’s values around social media use and then talk openly as a team. The moment you enter into a position of needing to power over and control, you will have lost the plot. Your child’s desire for social media is an opportunity to enter their world, understand their reality, and work through the issue together. Keep in mind, the research tells us that sitting down as a family to discuss the risks, benefits and rules around using social media lead to lower rates of problematic use.
5) Weigh the risks. Talk about the risks of ghost accounts (fake accounts) and the impact that choice might have on both the trust within your relationship and eventual harder consequences like a loss of freedom of technology use. Create a social media contract together so that the safety guidelines are both agreed upon and crystal clear. Most of the research shows that social media use is beneficial to tweens when and only when they are used in a structured, collaborative and thoughtful way.
6) Be inclusive, but firm. Our electronic universe has created radical cultural shifts that require radical parenting attention. When it comes to laying out parameters for the how, when, and where, of technology use, be inclusive, but be firm. Being a parent requires that we make decisions based on what is in the best interest of our child, even if that decision triggers anger and upset.
7) Model healthy habits. If you interrupt conversations when you get a message on Instagram or spend hours every night in front of your laptop scrolling through social media accounts, your kids will have a hard time accepting your expectation that they hold off on social media.
8) Connection is protection. Once you think your teen is ready, start slowly with one social media account, create your own account to supervise your child’s activity, and continue the conversation about how it’s all going. Your connection is your child’s best protection when social media problems arise.
Michele Kambolis is a 20-year veteran child and family therapist, acclaimed author, and parenting expert. A MA/PhD (cand.) in mind-body medicine, Michele combines her knowledge and passion for integrative healing, to support parents and children through their challenges.