My daughter counted down the days until she turned 13, and each morning would announce the number of days left until she reached the momentous occasion. With the days dwindling, I was face to face with the fact that being a teen meant that she was, technically, of the required age to have social media accounts.
I have documented why I have not permitted her to have one before turning 13, in part because I'm not willing to lie about her age nor was I willing to allow her to do so. (You can read more about that here.)
With that argument gone, I thought long and hard about what I was and was not willing to permit. Just because the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act applies to companies dealing with kids 12 years of age or younger doesn't mean that she's fully mature and capable of diving into the deep end of social media.
In fact, there's a lot of science on the massive brain development that occurs in the teen years and even the early 20's that indicates that her brain is still forming, and not always capable of making good decisions. That's always been an issue, but it is magnified by the fact that nothing online ever truly disappears. The choices you make stay with you for a very, very long time. Forever, in fact.
I see social media a lot like I do learning to drive.
Learning to drive starts out with demonstrating some knowledge before you even get a permit, then driving with a licensed driver, learning more, and putting in hours to show you're responsible before you can even try to get your license. Even when you have your license, in Illinois there are restrictions for the first few years.
I am prepared to take a similar approach with my daughter and social media. She may start with one account and I will be by her side.
There will be ground rules for social media usage, including but not limited to:
* Kindness is expected. Do not text, email, or say anything to someone that you would not say out loud to them or their parents. If there’s ever any doubt, do not send/post/share it.
* You need to have a real life connection with those you claim as friends/followers online (You can read more on that here. It reduces the chance of children communicating with adults posing as children or catfishing by peers. I realize that it doesn't eliminate it, but I think it's a good rule, particularly when just getting your social media sea legs.)
* I will be one of those friends/followers. Yes, on all your apps.
* There will be conversations about what goes on online. I will ask you for examples of both good and poor decisions and we'll talk about them.
* Be with your friends and family when you are with them. Socialize in person, not just on social media. I promise you that actual shared laughs beat 'LOL's every time.
(This phone contract spells out some more specific terms.)
Those rules will change over time, as she and her brain mature, and they will allow for more freedom as she demonstrates she is capable of handling it.
Right now, she's only entering 8th grade, and that's a whole world away from high school. I don't know about you, but I am ridiculously grateful that there was no social media when I was in middle school. I thank my lucky stars.
Here's the weird thing with my daughter, though. She hasn't asked yet about social media. Not that she's been 13 forever, but I really thought she'd raise the issue on day 1. That didn't happen, nor has it in subsequent days.
And no, she doesn't have hidden accounts. I check her phone and our family computer. Just like driving, I'm not going to throw the phone or the keys at her. It's a responsibility she should take on when she feels she's ready, and it's something she should ask to do. I'm not going to force it on her.
I'm sure the request is coming and while I don't that I feel completely ready, I think we're as ready as we're ever going to be.
Wish us luck!
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