Help! My Child Wants to Use Social Media

By Andrew Campbell, this article was first published on Families magazine

Social media plays a huge role in the lives of young people. They can use it to have fun, make and maintain friendships, connect with family members, express creativity, share interests and develop skills.  

However, social media also comes with undeniable risks, including exposure to upsetting or inappropriate content, cyberbullying, grooming and even FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

No wonder many parents are confused as to when the right time is to allow their child access to it. Whilst it can be overwhelming, before you say ‘no’ to everything social, or worse, turn a blind eye to what your child is doing, take time to make an informed decision that is appropriate for your child.

Consider your Child’s Age and Maturity, Try to wait until they are at least 13

Most popular social media platforms don’t allow anyone under 13 to join without parental consent. The reason for this is that much of the critical thinking required to deal with the content on these platforms may not be possible for developing brains. Even when your child turns 13, it doesn’t mean they suddenly acquire the necessary maturity for social media, especially given this is a time when they are undergoing significant developmental changes. On the other hand, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that your 11 year old may be sufficiently responsible, sensible and trustworthy enough to handle the online world. Regardless of your child’s age, you should carefully consider their actual emotional maturity before allowing them access to social media.  

Use your judgement

Deciding if your child is ready for social media is a very personal parental decision, much like determining when your child can cross the road or walk to school alone. Perhaps better questions are how much supervision will you provide if you permit your child on social media, and how will you protect them?

Will your child be honest about online interactions?

If your child comes to you with problems such as trouble at school, poor test results or friendship issues, then you most likely have a comfortable and healthy line of communication.

Do they follow other established rules?

An emotionally mature child will be respectful of other rules in the house, like doing chores or completing their homework. This may indicate they are mature enough to have social media accounts.

Setting Rules for Social Media Use

If you decide your child is ready for social media, agree some basic rules.

Set up profiles with your child so you have all the logins and passwords;

Keep privacy settings on. When possible, set everything to ‘private;’

Keep devices out of the bedroom. Children who get in trouble online often do so when devices are located in the bedroom;

Agree time limits but don’t forget it’s more important to understand what they’re doing online;

Make sure you can friend and follow. You can then monitor what they post;

Posting appropriate content and images. Explain that their posts could be available to anyone, anywhere and forever;

Keep private information private. Phone numbers, addresses and other personal information should never be given out;

Ensure other interests are maintained including friends/pastimes that don’t involve a device;

Don’t “friend” strangers. “If you don’t know them, don’t friend them.”

Prepare for consequences when rules are broken. This may mean losing their device or access to social media.

Talking to your Child about Social Media

Talking to your child about their online life can be difficult but by talking regularly, you will help your child feel relaxed and therefore more likely to come to you if they have a problem.

  • reassure them that you’re interested in their life, offline and online. Recognise that they’ll be using the internet to research homework as well talking to their friends;
  • ask your child to show you what they enjoy online or apps they’re using so you can understand them;
  • be positive but also open about anything you’re worried about. You could say “I think this site’s really good but…” or “I’m a little worried about things I’ve seen here;”
  • ask them to come to you if they’re worried about anything;
  • ask them about their friends online and how they know they are who they say they are;
  • listen for the reasons why your child wants to use apps/sites you don’t think are suitable, so you can talk about these together.

More info: www.nspcc.org.uk

This article was previously published in Families Magazine.

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