From the March 2015 issue

Social Media Primer for Kids

Whether they are on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, here are some tips for discussing the topic of social media with kids.

Have you talked to your kid about social media? Brianna Vandercook, a Royal Oak mother of two, ages 13 and 14, wishes she had. Instead, one day, friends and family called to inform her they’d received friend requests from her then-11-year-old daughter, who created a public Facebook account without mom’s knowledge or permission.

“Your heart stops for a minute as you think of everything that could potentially be on this page – photos, her city, her school,” Vandercook says. “And it was all on there.”

When to address it?

Now! Be proactive, says Janet McPeek, Ph.D., president of Crossroads for Youth, a private nonprofit treatment agency in Oxford that serves at-risk kids. Even toddlers have access to cellphones and are exposed to social media. They hear the vocabulary – text, email, tweet. Explain it. “Be as neutral and normal as possible,” McPeek says. “Social media is a part of our everyday lives.”

The magic age

High school, or age 14, is ideal, McPeek says. Kids have developed enough maturity to handle their own account and not get in trouble. Realistically, like Vandercook’s daughter, most kids don’t want to wait that long. And remember, this goes beyond Facebook. If your child has a phone, she’s already using social media by sending text and picture messages. And she may have an account on Instagram, Snapchat, Vine or Kik. Game apps and online gaming, like The Sims, have social components too.

Boundaries and rules

Be collaborative. Sit down together and discuss their typical day – school, sleep, studying, homework, extracurriculars. Ask, “How much time will you need for each of these? Now, out of your whole day, let’s talk about how much time you have to be online gaming, texting or using Facebook.” Set expectations. It helps if you’re already on the social media your child is interested in. Discuss appropriate hours for use and when all screen devices will be turned off. And talk about ratio of time your child spends with friends. “Social media is a great tool, but it can never replace face-to-face interaction,” McPeek notes.

Monitor activity

You must know all passwords and monitor your child’s social media use, McPeek says – on all devices. Let your child know that this is a condition for use and, most importantly, needs to be done for safety. Tell your child, “From time to time, I am going to look at what you are doing on social media.” Explain you’re not going to read every word or study every picture, but rather, scan for anything questionable or inappropriate. McPeek says she’s seen the best results when parents and children pick a time and do this together.

The key is to be upfront and honest with your child vs. your child thinking you are spying on them. The goal is to build trust.

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