We’re big fans of Cyberwise’s tagline ”No Grownup Left Behind.” We want to see all parents up to speed when it comes to what their kids and teens are doing online, and what kind of guidance best assures safe and responsible online activity.
With that in mind, our digital wish is for parents of kids who are coming of social media age is: “No parents who just say no”.
“What’s that?” you say.
Let me explain.
The average American teen gets her first cell phone by the age of 12, and has had Internet access for years by that time. She is part of the first generation of true digital natives. The Internet already connects her to much of what she reads and listens to and the things that make her happy. Without a doubt, she is going to communicate with friends via her cell phone, and probably not by calling them.
When she is in the 10-13 year old range, or gets her first phone, she’ll probably ask you if it is okay for her to get her first social media account – these days it will probably be Instagram, Snapchat or Ask.fm. Resist the urge to just say NO, even if you’re sure that’s the right answer.
If she did it without asking, you have another set of problems, but that’s a topic for another day…
If you just say no:
She is going to do it anyway – in some shape or form. Perhaps she’ll learn from a friend how to download an app and hide it in a folder, or delete it each time she uses it. Maybe she’ll borrow a friend’s phone or tablet to set up an account.
Eventually you find out. You won’t be able to delete the account. Let’s pick on Instagram for a moment. You can’t call or email Instagram. You can’t submit a form instructing them to delete the account – she owns it, even if she is under 18.
If you say no, she might end up with a rogue account, you’ll be angry and nothing was learned (and you have a child who is learning to hide things from you – a bad start to the teenage years).
If you say yes:
She will be happy. We all know that’s not reason enough. And you’ll both be flying blind.
You’ll be forced to get involved, or at least get up to speed quickly – to find out what the risks are and how she can stay protected. Deciding to go down that road at a moment’s notice might not be the best idea.
If you say not yet:
You’re on the right track. First, you can explain why the answer is “not yet”. By the way, it’s perfectly okay to say that it’s because you don’t know enough about Instagram, or whatever her first choice is, to make sure she’s safe.
You’ll have time to educate yourself as to what the right time is, and why. The official age limit is 13, but that might not work for you and your teen. You can get up to speed – at your own pace – about what kinds of content are permitted, how the privacy settings work, how to report abuse. None of it is all that difficult to do but it’s but much better if you and your teen know the basics beforehand.
If the answer is “not yet,” there is zero chance that issue will just go away. She’ll get to work convincing you - gathering information about why it is safe, how she can keep herself safe, what kinds of things her friends have seen. A tween without Instagram will not stay idle for long.
As a parent, there are plenty of things to say “no” to. Having a social media account shouldn’t necessarily be one of them. It’s much better to say not yet, and get up to speed from there.
When the time comes, you’ll both be ready!
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen Internet activity.
About Rob Zidar
Rob is a co-founder of internet safety firm ThirdParent. As an online reputation management and Internet safety expert, Rob is sought after by the media and organizations to speak to parents and teens about online security and reputation management. Rob is a father of three and lives with his family in Montgomery Township, N.J.
About ThirdParent Created by parents for parents in 2013, ThirdParent specializes in Internet safety for teens and kids. ThirdParent provides discreet, professional online monitoring and reporting services to equip parents with the tools and resources needed to proactively safeguard the privacy and reputation of their kids online. For a limited time the ThirdParent initial audit is free (normally a $49 value).
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