From TikTok to Instagram to Snapchat and Twitter, social media permeates our modern society. It’s one of the major ways we communicate with one another, and it can seem like everyone is on at least one of the platforms. But should children join them?
As a parent, you’ve likely worried about your kids and social media. Whether they’re younger or teenagers, they have no doubt heard about the popular social media sites and may have friends who use them. Eventually, they’ll want to join one of those sites—if they haven’t already. About half of parents of children ages 10 to 12 and a third of parents of children ages 7 to 9, report that their children use social media. As a parent, the best thing you can do right now is help your child build a healthy media relationship.
To get you started, here are some answers to common questions about children and social media as well as some strategies on how you can help make sure your child uses social media well.
Should Kids Have Social Media?
Whether or not kids should even have access to social media is an important—and common—question. So, let’s look into it.
First of all, most kids are already online. Nearly 90% of parents of children ages 5-11 report that their child watches YouTube. And Internet usage only goes up as kids grow older. Whether they’re watching cartoons on Disney+ as a grade schooler or learning through online school as a teenager, the Internet is an integrated part of their life and will continue to be so. After all, Internet literacy is a vital skill in the modern world. And social media is a big part of the Internet experience.
While every parent should do what they believe is best for their child, whether society as a whole should allow children on social media is more complicated than a yes or no answer. For kids, social media can be both a positive and a negative.
What Are The Drawbacks of Social Media For Kids?
Those who think children should avoid social media point to several downsides. These include:
- Many social media spaces are adult spaces, which means social media channels can expose children to adult-oriented conversations and behaviors.
- Children’s peers can use social media for cyberbullying.
- Predators can use social media to lure children into dangerous situations.
- Social media can become addictive, which means children can end up spending less time studying and/or relating to the world outside of their screens.
These concerns are significant, and you shouldn’t overlook them. However, there are some qualities of social media that can be good for kids.
What Are The Advantages of Social Media For Kids?
When used responsibly, social media can benefit children, especially pre-teens and teenagers. Advantages include:
- Children can use social media to stay in closer contact with family who live in other places.
- Children in online school can converse with peers through social media and get to know one another better.
- Social media can help children develop a deeper understanding of the world, whether they’re looking at photos from other countries or reading first-hand accounts of other people’s life experiences.
- Children can express themselves through social media, sharing their ideas and art with others, which can help them develop their intellect and creative spirit.
Of course, for children to enjoy these advantages, they need to know how to avoid the negatives. That’s where you can play an important role.
What Is Appropriate Social Media Behavior for Kids?
Teaching kids about social media isn’t about teaching them how to use it in general. It’s about teaching them how to use it responsibly. To build a healthy media relationship, children need to learn how to self-manage their use of social media and engage with others online in healthy, safe ways.
There are several lessons you can teach your child about appropriate social media behavior. Encourage your child to:
- Remember that everyone they meet online is a real person and should be treated with the same politeness and respect they would treat someone in-person.
- Understand that anything they post on social media can be seen by anyone in the world and that they should never post anything they would be embarrassed for a parent or teacher to see.
- Treat social media as if it’s the real world because it is the real world. Things they say on social media can have real world consequences. In some places, kids can even be disciplined at school for what they post online.
- Never share personal information, including photos of themselves, phone numbers, home address, or anything else that might allow a stranger to find them.
- Turn privacy settings on. (Depending on how tech-savvy your child is, you may want to help them with this.)
- Report cyberbullying to parents and/or appropriate school administrators.
- Never exchange private messages with strangers.
In addition, you can work with your child to limit their time on social media—or screens in general—to a certain number of hours a day or week. Ultimately, you want your child to learn how to set down their phone or turn off their computer without your urging. This typically takes a while for kids to learn how to do, so start off more strictly and then move toward gentle nudges before stepping back and seeing if they can appropriately manage their social media time on their own.
Today’s children are going to be online. And most will be on social media sooner rather than later. Helping your child develop healthy media relationships can help them avoid future pitfalls. Plus, it can help them develop skills for all their online interactions, including those at online school. To learn more about the benefits of learning online, check out our article on why parents choose online school.