Our children are growing up in a world vastly different from the one we grew up in. Long days riding bikes all over town are replaced with access to smart devices, and family dinners talking are often interrupted by a barrage of text messages, calls, and email alerts. But beyond the difference in lifestyle and access to technology, the way our children communicate and socialize is different. Technology is so integrated in our lives – which means many children get access to technologies, like iPads, smartphones, and computers, in primary school. While these devices offer unique learning opportunities, they also open the potential for their young eyes and ears to be exposed at a young age to all sorts of things – including social media.
Social media in itself can be a great thing – it allows us to follow news and current events, keep (mildly) in touch with old acquaintances and classmates, connect with peers, and gain advice and opinions. However, while adults can typically gauge appropriate discussions and connections, our little ones are still learning the ways of the world and nowhere near ready to connect with the world. So at what age are they ready for social media access?
If it were up to me, the answer would be never (ha!). But being realistic, the answer is that it’s different for every child. Facebook and Twitter both state a minimum age of 13 years old; as parents, it’s important that we respect that age requirement and help to enforce it. While we can’t prevent our children from creating profiles with false ages to fulfill that requirement, we can use technology to block domains until they are at least the minimum 13 years.
Personal Confidence and Trustworthiness
Many of the nightmares we hear about stem from one place: confidence. Confident people don’t bully or tolerate bullying. They don’t engage in inappropriate behavior to try to fit in or secure interest that should be unwelcome. Most youth will go through an uncomfortable/awkward stage, but should come out of it. Know your child personally and hold them from social media until you can trust them to protect themselves, act appropriately, and report or at least avoid anyone suspicious.
Help Them Fly
At some point, your child is going to leave the nest and they should learn to fly before doing so. In general, by 16 years, your child should be ready for social media exposure. Make sure they know the basics (never share where they live, only friend people on Facebook who they personally know, don’t give out billing information – ever , etc.) and approach it with them. It’s a big step and one they need to earn – but it’s also important that they learn how to use social media safely and appropriately before they’re on their own without adult supervision.
There really isn’t a one-size fits all approach, but most children are ready to begin venturing into social media (if they’re interested) sometime between 14-16 years of age. Ultimately, the determination is up to you – you know them best.
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