By: Chris McKenna
Many parents ask when is the right age to give a child their first social media account.
That is actually the wrong question. We think there are other, more important questions that should be asked first. We have a list of six questions that we’ve found to be helpful in making an accurate assessment. But, let’s start with the government’s answer to this question.
WHAT DOES COPPA SAY ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA?
The Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA), which has been in effect since 2000, protects the private, identifying information about children under age 13. This has become the standard for social media giants like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Musical.ly, and Live.ly since all of them require users to create a profile that includes personal, private information.
Even though this act has been around for over a decade, we are shocked at how few parents enforce any kind of minimum age for when their kids open up their first social media account. Whenever we speak to children in grades 3-7 (ages 8-12), we always ask them, “how many of you have a social media account of your own right now?” And, at least 20-50% of the kids raise their hands.
This isn’t a social media issue. This isn’t a kid issue. This is a parenting issue. Parents are telling their kids that it’s okay to lie. Parents are tossing their kids into a dangerous pool of risk without a life jacket. This is not okay.
6 QUESTIONS TO ASK ABOUT YOUR CHILD
Although age is one factor in determining whether or not a child is ready for the pressures and risks of social media, it’s only one of many variables that should be considered. At Protect Young Eyes, we operate under the assumption that no child for any reason should be using social media prior to age 13. Turning 13 is the minimum requirement, and is in no way an automatic approval for Instagram or anything else.
Because, remember, age alone is the wrong question.
The right question goes something like this, “based on everything I know about my at least 13-year-old child, do I believe he/she is ready to handle the pressures, risks, emotions, and unpredictable nature of using social media and use it responsibly?”
This elevates the question.
And, in order to answer that question well, it requires you to truly know your child. Study your child. Analyze the behaviors of your child. It requires parents to be observant, engaged, and informed. Here are a few items to consider:
- What are his/her friendships/social skills like? Because if their friendships in real life have any level of drama, trauma, or tension, then those friendships will ignite on social media. Remember, social media is like gasoline for cruel behavior. Can your child carry on a meaningful, human-to-human conversation with a non-parent adult? If not, then they are not ready for social media.
- How well does he/she obey rules? Every kid pushes back at least some, but there is a level of defiance that rises above just normal teen disobedience. Is there deception? Regular lying?If yes, then they are not ready for social media.
- Does he/she have a strong heart? I’m not referring to the way that her heart pumps blood through her body, but rather, is your child self-confident? Or, is he/she adrift in their identity, uncertain as to who they are or why they exist? Ask your son or daughter to name three amazing things about themselves. If they can’t do this, then they’re not ready for social media. Think about Instagram for a minute – how many 13-year-old girls are truly ready for “the whispers of Instagram?” The whisper that says, “skin and sexy = followers and likes.” The whisper that shows them an endless stream of perfectly polished pictures, with a subtle message about true beauty that is truly only skin deep. The whisper of female comparison lurks HEAVY on Instagram, and I know few 13-year-old girls who are ready for that.
- Is he/she trustworthy? For example, is she trusted to take care of children? Can your son or daughter stay home alone for two straight hours without any contact from you? If not, then they are not ready for social media. If he/she can’t handle two hours alone in the real world, then he/she can’t handle 2 minutes alone in the social media world.
- Is he/she at least 13 years old? I know, I’ve said this multiple times. Until the third graders we speak to stop raising their hands when asked if they have a social media account, I’m going to keep asking this question. Kids who begin using social media before turning 13 are beginning their journey into the social media ecosystem as a lie, and worse yet, one that is often condoned by parents. NOTE: at Protect Young Eyes, we advocate for at least age 15 for mature social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram. Trust us. They’re full of trouble.
- Have you had direct and frequent conversations about awkward things? I’m talking about the big three: sexting, pornography, and sexual predators. Before using social media, your child needs to have heard these words for years and know exactly what they mean and what to do when confronted by situations that involve them. Go through every possible “what if?” scenario and ask yourself, “have we talked about that?” Does he/she know what to do when they see porn? (because they will) Does he/she know what a sexual predator is, can recognize the signs, and is confident enough to know what to do when approached by someone online? (because eventually, it will happen). If not, then your son or daughter is definitely not ready for social media.
Parent well! Protect Young Eyes loves the mission of Wait Until 8th. And, we’re here to help.
This post originally appeared on Protect Young Eyes and is re-published with permission.
Chris McKenna enjoys living life to the full! Chris has an eclectic list of professional experience...CPA, business advisor, youth pastor, development director, founder of Protect Young Eyes, and also the Educational Resource Manager for Covenant Eyes. God shares wild ideas with Chris about life while he runs. Protect Young Eyes uses a constantly updated website, live presentations, and virtual curriculum to reach tens of thousands of kids and parents annually. Visit their online resources (here!) to begin protecting your family today!
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