“But MOOOOM, I will follow you! If you let me have an Instagram account, it will give you another follower.”
Hold on while I finish laughing.
This is one of the many reasons my 12 year-old has given me to convince me to let him have an Instagram account. Others included the old-favorite “everyone else has one” and “I can show the world my creativity.” Oddly, these didn’t convince me to go against Instagram’s Terms and Conditions that says very plainly that “You must be at least 13 years old to use the Service.”
This protects Instagram, but they are also following the guidelines set in the COPPA (Children's Online Privacy Protection Act), which prevents companies from collecting certain information from children under the age of 13.
In our home, my husband and I have decided to not give our children social media accounts until AFTER they are 13 years old. But that’s not the only guideline we have. We have a social media readiness list, of sorts, as well. Working in social media day in and day out has given me a special insight that I didn’t have four years ago when we let our then 11-year-old daughter get an Instagram account. As my son would say, “It’s so not fair.”
It’s not fair, I know. The way I see it, what isn’t fair is giving kids a loaded gun and hoping they don’t figure out how it can kill them. Sound harsh? For sure, it does. Any metaphor with “a loaded gun” is used for dramatic emphasis and this is no exception, except I need to somehow also make guns sound fun for adults even though I don’t have a gun and never want to own one and now I am just going on and on about guns, which has derailed my point completely.
We told my son that he had to prove that he was mature enough to start using a social media account. We also pointed out that throwing a fit and asking in front of friends in a flippant manner was, in fact, not a sign of maturity. Mind boggling, I know.
He also knows that he won’t necessarily get all or any account on his 13th birthday. That is just one prerequisite for social readiness. Here are some questions we have and items we discuss to gauge the maturity and readiness of our children:
Do you understand that anything you post or share is no longer yours once you do so?
This is my beef with Snapchat. If I could rule the world, I would make it so that parents can view all DMs sent on their child’s Snapchat account for 24 hours. Kids think that because their messages “disappear” after received that they can share things they wouldn’t otherwise feel comfortable sharing. But, I can name five people I know that had their private DMs on Snapchat “captured” when someone took a photo and saved the message. I have had many messages captured and I quickly realized that whatever I have written can be owned by someone else.
You might think that it is a private message, or only those few who follow your private account will be able to see the things you post, but once you put it out online, you have lost ownership. Anyone can screenshot, share, copy, and use your posts. That doesn’t put them in the right, but it is something kids need to realize can and will happen.
We do not post things that are inappropriate.
Would you feel comfortable if your grandparents saw it?
I have noticed a large trend in teens and preteens using adult jokes in their posting. I get it; they want to seem mature and “hip” (and by writing that very word, I have proved how “hip” I actually am. Oy!). On April 20, my daughter made a joke about 420 (a slang for marijuana) on one of her accounts. As soon as I saw it, I bombarded her with messages that said things like, “Uh no.” “This is not appropriate.” “We do not joke about this in our home.” “Take it down.”
Kids are trying to find their voice and their unique personality. Often they do this by mimicking popular comedians, personalities, and other social accounts. My favorite question to my kids is, “Would you feel comfortable if your grandparents saw this?” I usually point out a different grandparent, aunt, or uncle, and remind them that if their post would make them uncomfortable, then they shouldn’t post it. Sometimes it’s hard for kids to understand the hypothetical of future employers, but they can imagine what their grandparents would think.
Don’t use the search field. Don’t go exploring hashtags, either.
This one is the loaded gun. Do we even tempt our kids by informing them of how much trash is in the search and hashtag explorations? This is the #1 reason I don’t want my kids on social media until they are ready. We don’t take our kids to certain movies, we restrict television channels and shows, we put software on our computers to protect them, and then hand them a social media account that has a million worse things easily accessed in seconds.
My husband and I realize that raising our kids means preparing them to be kind, capable adults. Part of this raising is teaching them how to manage the excess that is presented to them. We have sugar in our home, because we want them to learn that knowing how to having a little is far more preferable than if they gorged on candy at a friend’s house. Same goes for social media. I can’t keep it away from them forever, eventually they need to learn how to manage and moderate how they use it. For now, we have told them of how damaging the searches can be and to refrain from using them at all.
Never ever give any personal information to anyone… ever.
Old school, but duh. Just because we, as parents, have heard this over and over, does not mean our kids shouldn’t keep hearing it over and over, as well. Don’t allow strangers to follow you. Don’t engage in messages with people you don’t know. Even if they are your “age” or have similar friends. Nope.
Get a grip on LIKES and COMMENTS.
It’s so nice to be liked. I know many people who will delete a photo if it doesn’t get a certain number of likes. Which is, of course, crazy when you write it or read it, but it doesn’t feel crazy to them. It feels like what they put out to the world wasn’t validated and so they will take it back.
Hey kids and adults (and me): Post for YOU! Not for the comments. Not for the likes. Do it because you like it, because it expresses who you are. If you get one like or 1000, don’t sweat it. I’ve seen celebrity accounts that LITERALLY post a blank white post, sometimes multiple in a row or every other picture for some account aesthetic (by the way, that is the correct way to use literally). Those white posts will get hundreds of thousands of likes. Duh. Likes aren’t always a measure of good or value. Don’t worry about them.
Our family’s less social media-focused list of preparedness includes:
- Do you keep your room clean?
- Do you finish your homework before 8 pm every day?
- Do you practice your instrument every day?
- Are you playing outside every day?
- Do you do your chores without complaining?
- Can I leave you home alone for more than two hours?
- Have you shown respect for curfews?
- Are you kind to your teachers and other adults?
Basically, are you mature enough?
I’d love to know your thoughts on social media accounts for kids. How do you decide that your child is ready to have an account?