A recent San Jose Mercury article features one of the big questions for the modern parent: when is your child ready for social media? It is an important question because like learning to cross the street or drive a car, it is not a question of “if” but “when” your child will establish a presence in the cyber social realm. The bigger question is whether the parent is ready to be the guardian in a hyper-connected world where risky choices, connections and circumstances are so easily made clandestine.
Back-to-school is a critical time when youth are seeking to make stay connected to old friends and make new friends. “Fitting in” to their peer group during middle school is the strong imperative and the danger is that the cyber-powered peer communities can easily become a single point of reference for life. The best response to counter this legitimate concern is to engage the intellect and will of your child as an emerging executive and create an open dialogue about what is happening on and off-line.
To that end, below are some tips for preparing and guiding your middle schooler’s social media experiences:
Mobile connectivity is presented as a rite of passage, not a right. Transparency is mandatory. This means that parents monitor cyber communications and no apps are downloaded without discussion and prior approval. This includes browsers as well as social media and texting apps. At this point, your child has demonstrated that she understands the importance of setting boundaries regarding who has access to personal information (phone number, address, where attends school, etc.) and knowing the source of the apps being used.
Family Approved app list. The “family approved list” for your middle schooler may be expanded to included the new applications that interest your child as a responsible user, and there should be an understanding to seek parental approval before downloading any new app. Your review of the apps for use should include privacy settings and setting up news alerts to stay current on any changes to the privacy settings.
Texting. Use of texting must be with the understanding that you will conduct random checks and that all the communications will be “E” for everyone. Drill it into them that there is NO PRIVACY in the net.
NOTE: Free texting and video chat apps are easily accessed via wireless mobile devices, so be clear with your child about what apps you are approving for her on the “family approved app” listing and conduct random checks to verify that your child is successfully honoring the boundaries. Keep in mind that kids are not necessarily using the texting functions associated with your mobile service. Today instant messengers are popular, such as SnapChat, Kik or WhatsApp, which are web-based and do not require a phone number or account with an internet provider. All the child needs is access to the internet through someone’s device. So this is why it is important to explain what “family approved apps” are for their benefit. So they do not get duped into downloading apps that connect them with people who want to take advantage of them.
Social media. Most tweens and teens are using Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, which parents use as well. If you decide to allow your child to establish one of these accounts, it must be with the understanding that you will be one of their “friends” and that you have the password, and that there will be random checks for content. The purpose of your monitoring is to teach your child how NOT to give up personal power to people and circumstances that may cause suffering (bullying/gossip/addictions).
Below are some examples of apps that are definitely adult swim, and should be discouraged for youth under 18 years old because they are anonymous and/or full of sexual content and connecting people looking to find sexual encounters.
For a comprehensive list of apps, go to: Common Sense Media
Extra credit: Consider assigning your middle schooler to be the keeper of the family approved app listing, reinforcing the ownership of the setting of limits to establish personal security boundaries for the family. Your middle schooler may also be a good steward of younger users in your home.