The Right Age to Introduce Kids to Social Media
I often joke with my parents about how I was their best child. I’m one of four kids. And, as adults now, we like to joke about which one of us was the easiest to raise.
Although I joke about being the best child, I know full well I gave my parents plenty of gray hairs during my preteen and teen years. I was always pushing their boundaries. ALWAYS!
Many times I went way beyond the boundaries. I learned from mistakes I made. But, my mistakes were certainly not from a lack of supervision by my parents.
They were because I snuck out of my bedroom at 2 am while they were sleeping. Or, because I lied about where I was going. I finally got caught in a sleepover event that got out of control. I often refer to that as the day my dad saved my life.
In the blowup that happened as a result of that incident, my dad somehow reached through my anger and hurt and connected with me. He saw beyond my behavior and to the heart of what I was struggling with–acceptance from my peers.
My behavior didn’t change instantly. I had so much growing to do. But, it was a turning point in my life. It restored my relationship with my parents and let me know they were on my side. I was now open to their advice, their thoughts, and their instruction.
Parents often ask me my suggestion for the right age to introduce kids to social media. Sometimes, parents are asking because it’s a battle in their home and they fear their child might be hiding something from them. Sometimes they are asking because they are hoping to hear me say, “Keep your child off social media forever.”
Mostly, parents are looking for:
And if I do thisthen my child won’t (fill in the blank with whatever your worst online fear is for your child).
There is no formula.
I can’t tell you what the best age is for your child to get their first social media account. What I will tell you is you can’t avoid social media, thinking that doing so will keep your child safe from the evils of the Internet. It won’t. And, in doing so, you would actually miss a big opportunity to have a major influence in your child’s life.
So, why should you guide your child through social media?
Social media is communication.
Like it or not, social media is a big way we connect with each other. Our role as parents is to teach our kids how to use social media wisely. Just as we teach our kids to use kind words when they speak, we need to teach them to be kind when using social media.
And sometimes, just like we have to “rinse and repeat” when teaching our kids how to respond or behave in situations, we have to expect the same when it comes to social media.
Social media savvy is needed for school and work.
Social media has been around long enough that it’s now mainstream. It’s not just for the “tech savvy.” Small businesses, schools, and religious organizations all use social media to communicate. Set your kids up for success later in life by helping them navigate social media now while they are in your home and open to your influence.
I realize the thought of your kids making a mistake on social media is scary. But remember, your kids are still kids. Even though they’ve grown up with technology and can navigate the platforms fluidly doesn’t mean they don’t need your guidance. They will make mistakes. And when that happens, they need you.
They need you to help them navigate communication issues. You can build your relationship with your child as you help them build their communication skills and firm up their character.
Here are some practical ways to guide your child through social media:
Teach your kids to post responsibly.
Have discussions with your kids about what to post and what not to post online. Talk to them about commenting with kindness as well. You don’t always have to agree with your friends, but learning how to offer a differing opinion while still being respectful of the person is a skill to be learned. (We all know some adults who haven’t mastered it.)
And, there are times when it’s best not to post a comment at all.
Be sure to point out both good and bad examples for your kids. It’s a valuable lesson that will be applicable over and over again for them throughout their life.
Teach your kids the importance of allowing time for reflection.
Before the dawn of the digital age, we had time to reflect on situations before responding. This time gave us the ability to process and evaluate an event. Then, we might discuss it with a friend or family member.
The ability to connect instantly certainly has benefits. But, taking a moment to process is not one of them. We must teach our kids that just because they can respond instantly doesn’t mean they have to respond instantly. Teach your kids it’s healthy to take a bit of time to calm down and filter their thoughts before responding. Especially if they are upset, tired, in a bad mood, or in the middle of a hormonal mood swing.
Teach your kids every thought or event is not shareable.
My brain fires off thoughts in rapid succession. And, while I immediately think my thoughts are hilarious or inspiring, it takes me about 2 seconds to realize I’d regret sharing most of them. Our kids need to understand this as well.
Social media isn’t a journal. It’s open communication on a platform with a large audience. What do you really want to share with your audience? Will you still feel that post is important or funny 5 years from now? Or will you look back at it and be mortified?
Teach your kids mistakes happen, we acknowledge them, we learn from them, we move forward.
As parents, we can put all kinds of safeguards in place. We can lose sleep keeping tabs on our kids in an effort to watch everything they do online. We can have the most compliant kids. But our kids WILL make mistakes.
There is no formula that will prevent this from happening. Our job as parents is to teach our kids how to come back from their mistakes by acknowledging them, learning from them, and moving forward from them.
We can’t assume that because we check our child’s computer, devices, and phone we don’t need to teach our kids how to act kindly online. We can’t assume because we use filters we are catching everything our child may or may not be doing. And we can’t parent like we’ll always be there to catch our child’s every misstep online, because the reality is we won’t.
Instead, we need to be walking beside our kids, loving, teaching, and guiding them so they grow into responsible digital citizens.
My parents taught me not to do many of the things I did as a teen. I was a compliant young child. I had built up trust, and there was no reason for them to suspect I wasn’t where I said I was. But, I knew my parents would call to check up on me. Our family had firm guidelines in place. I still made mistakes. When I failed, I’m so glad my parents were in my court, loving me and guiding me back.
The advice my dad offered me 30 years ago sticks with me today. It’s still applicable in so many situations. The love he showed me that day, and his advice, was truly a gift.
And just like I needed my dad 30 years ago, your child is going to need you. Instead of fretting over if or when a social media mistake might happen, begin guiding your kids now. Build the relationship you have with them now. You’ll be thankful when the time comes and you need to step in to love them, help dust them off, and guide them back.
I can’t tell you the right age to introduce your kids to social media. And, I can’t tell you your child won’t post something embarrassing, download an app that terrifies you, or see something that turns your stomach.
What I can tell you is avoiding social media means you miss out on an amazing opportunity to have conversations with your kids about their digital lives. It means you miss having the opportunity to walk beside them and offer your wisdom and influence.
I think age guidelines for social media platforms are there for a reason. But, there are a number of social media options. Reach your child and guide them through social media while the scales are still leaning in your favor.