To hear your child tell it, she is the only middle-schooler on the planet without her own social networking account. While Facebook sets the minimum age at 13, there is no realistic way for them to screen out younger children who fudge their ages, and Twitter has no age restrictions in place. For parents in the digital age, it is growing increasingly harder to toe the hard line against no Twitter or Facebook for kids. How can you set reasonable rules regarding the popular sites?
Identify the Issues
What are your prime concerns about allowing your tween or teen online? Are you worried that oversharing of personal, identifiable information might attract the unwelcome attention of online predators? Maybe you are worried that your child could become the target of cyberbullying, or even succumb to peer pressure and join in tormenting a classmate online. Or perhaps you feel that your son or daughter's unblemished reputation could suffer by the posting of unwise photos or videos. All are valid concerns and should be addressed in frank discussions with your child starting early in grade school. Realize that you as the parent are the final arbiter on the issue of allowing access to these networks, and like it or not, your child must abide by your rules. If you have a reasonably mature and responsible child, consider allowing limited, monitored access to these accounts with the understanding that the first questionable post will cause them to be suspended indefinitely.
Learn to Navigate the NetworksAcknowledge that, like it or not, cyberspace is the milieu of the millennial generation. Parents should have more than a cursory knowledge of how to navigate the two biggest networks, Facebook and Twitter. Twitter is eclipsing Facebook these days as the social network of choice for the younger set, while Instagram is exploding in popularity among preteens and teens. Regardless of your personal feelings and rules about Facebook for kids, know that even children prohibited from their own online accounts will have knowledge of the goings-on in the ether of cyberspace simply from exposure at school and play to other children who have online access. It is in no one's best interest if your child can run rings around you with their ease of navigating these networks. Remember that knowledge is power, so learn to wield it wisely.
Rather than issuing parental edicts against online accounts, sit down with your child and discuss the reasons behind your rules. A child that understands why something is forbidden is more likely to abide by the rules than one to whom rules are sternly dictated. Allow her to express her feelings regarding your rules and to provide feedback during these discussions. Understand that you will not be able to keep your child off of social networks forever and it is better for her to learn how to safely engage online than to be a neophyte at some future unmonitored point. Discuss with her the pitfalls of taking and posting racy photos, hurtful tweets and information that could be useful to predators. Role play with younger kids different scenarios that could result from typical tween posts so she can understand the consequences in a concrete way.
There is no way to cocoon your child from exposure to online activities indefinitely. Your wisest course of action is to raise savvy kids who can surf the waves of cyberspace without getting sucked into the undertow. Use of parental intelligence systems can give you peace of mind and ease the transition.
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