It seems like you we hear or read a new story every day about a child who was cyberbullied or a student who sexted her boyfriend, who leaked the photo. The bad of social media seems to far outweigh the good, and as a parent, it can feel much easier to just take the phones away and never ever let your child on social media. The problem is, everyone else is doing it, and sooner or later, they are going to get on social media. I was raised away from social media. It was taboo. I didn’t even have a phone until I was 21. But, despite all that, as soon as I moved out I got into social media, and I had a major learning curve. Now, I was never disrespectful or vicious online, but I still had a lot to learn and, again, I was 21. Here’s the thing, social media is here to stay, and making it taboo only increases its appeal. The better solution is to teach and guide your children through how to use social media correctly, meaning respectfully and safely. To do so does not mean you must launch your 13-year-old directly into the sometimes-savage worlds of Facebook and Instagram. (We do not recommend social media for children under the age of 13). You can take baby steps, teaching and guiding with tight parental control until you feel they are ready to handle the big guns. Here’s what you should be looking for to decide your kids are ready to play in the big social media worlds.
1. Your kids know that their value does not come from social media. Now, be careful with this one. This does not mean that a picture never makes them jealous or self-conscious. After all, even mature adults experience a bit of Instagram jealousy, and it can be very difficult not to compare oneself with the photoshopped pictures of your “rival.” What this means is that when it is all said and done, the feeling gets processed in a healthy way, and your child realizes their value is from who they are.
2. Your kids understand that people react differently with their social media “mask” on, but that they should always be digitally respectful. It can be so tempting sometimes to lash back at a negative or hurtful comment. When this happens, your child needs to know to take a step back and cool down before proceeding. You may need to walk them through this a few times before they can do this on their own. The goal is that they learn to process negative emotions away from the screen. They can even write their angry response on paper and then throw it away. Just don’t blow up on the screen.
3. Your kids understand social media safety. Their settings should be locked down. Their location settings should be turned off, and they should not connect with strangers. If a stranger requests to connect with them, they should know the proper safety procedures to go through. These can be established through a quick conversation with your kids.
4. Your child understands that their online world does not replace their offline world. Chatting with friends on Facebook is a far cry from having a conversation over lunch. At first, you should set a social media schedule that gives them twice as much offline time as online time. Social media is addicting, so expect some resistance here. Setting an example by doing the same thing yourself will go a long way. Eventually, though, they should start to realize the wisdom in the schedule and enforce it themselves.
As stated before, the ultimate goal is social media independence in a safe and respectful way. If you start to notice that your child is being responsible on their own, then slowly take your hands off- but, not completely. Do routine checks for safety and digital respect, but always assume your child is being responsible. It will go a long way in your influence on your child.
In the meantime, there are a few apps you should be aware of that target young audiences. As always, there are good apps, but there are also bad apps. Let’s start with the good. Of course, educational apps are always good. Using the iPad or iPhone to learn something makes screen time fun and productive. If you are looking for a sort of “training” social media app, Kudos is a good one. It allows kids to post only appropriate photos, and other people can like them using three options of positive reaction. It allows for a much heavier parental hand for monitoring purposes. There are others, and a quick internet search will allow you to examine the pros and cons of each one to find one that suits your needs.
Of course, it can’t all be unicorns and rainbows. While we try to keep it positive, we must go over some of the bad apps to look out for. Believe it or not, I have met 3rdgraders with a Snapchat account, even though the app is for users age 13+. I have seen groups of middle schoolers admit to sexting. The age of these atrocities is getting younger and younger. It is becoming more important than ever to be aware of what exactly is one your child’s phone. The sheer volume of negative apps out there targeting young kids could fill its own blog, but the internet is full of that information. For now, let’s just examine of couple apps that we find highly concerning. And as always, if you discover an app that you would like me to research and cover in a blog, feel free to subscribe for updates and comment your suggestions.
App #1: Monkey
Monkey is a video messaging app that is designed to connect teens with random people all around the world for brief video exchanges. If there is a connection, they can choose to spend more time with the person or they can connect on Snapchat. While age verification is in place, and the mission of the Monkey creators is to deepen human relationships through a conversation instead of a simple like or comment, we believe this app is highly dangerous. First the connection with strangers. Teens will find it much more fulfilling to connect with the people in their community. There is also a possibility for sexual content and profanity. Monkey also does not guarantee privacy to its users, leaving your teens vulnerable if they have a lapse of judgment.
App #2: AfterSchool
AfterSchool is an anonymous gossip app designed specifically for people who go to the same school to connect and gossip about each other. The anonymity lends itself to cyberbullying and harassment. Age verification is through Facebook. Any potential predator who knows how to create a Facebook account could pose as a high schooler and connect up with the teenagers. There is no accountability for digital respect, as is the problem with anonymous apps, and parents cannot log on since it is specifically designed for students who go to the same school.
There are a myriad of other harmful apps that we would not recommend, but again, that list is much too extensive for this blog. If you want me to cover any specific apps, comment and let me know.