Children and Social Media: Are We Asking For Trouble?

Children and social media have become almost inseparable. Between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, Google+, LinkedIn, and so on, social networks have become a part of our everyday lives. While I welcome social networking and the way it connects adults to the people in their lives (I have reconnected with several childhood friends & acquaintances that absent Facebook, I would never have heard from again), I am not totally on-board with the idea of social networking for children.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 22% of teenagers log on to their favorite social media site more than 10 times a day, and more than half of adolescents log on to a social media site more than once a day. This presents multiple opportunities for: misuse of the internet, cyberbullying, and privacy issues. While there are very real benefits to allowing children to use social media (socializing, enhanced learning, researching topics of interest; i.e. health information), it still makes me nervous.

My 15-year-old son has a Facebook profile, which has often found itself deactivated, and he is also on Instagram. My 10 year old daughter recently signed up for Everloop, which is basically a kids-only Facebook. Although I have allowed my kids to participate in social networking, I am conflicted over whether it is the right decision. While Facebook allows kids to sign-up for an account as young as 13, I think giving this type of access to children this young can lead to problems down the line.

Let me explain why I have concerns about children and social media.

Unwritten Rules of Engagement

Social networking comes with certain rules of engagement that kids are not aware of; things that adults know because we have successfully interacted with live people for years before taking our associations online. Knowing what information should be given to whom, at what time, and in what manner is critical to productive online interactions. I had to sit down with my son for a couple of hours to review appropriate online etiquette. Little things like ‘when you type in all caps you are yelling’ and ‘spell-check & proofreading are still required’ had him feeling like he was in Social Media 101.

Once It’s Online, It’s Always Online

Kids need to understand that once you post a status update or upload a picture, it now belongs to the world, and you cannot take it back. Even if you delete it from your profile it is still out there somewhere. And the worst thing that can happen is to miss out on a future employment or other important opportunity because your online activity comes back to haunt you. Inappropriate pictures, angry rants, extreme opinions, and anything else that can be misconstrued as violent or hateful has no place on a kid’s social media profile. Children don’t always know how to make the right judgment call on these types of issues; what they consider a harmless status update could end up costing them acceptance to their dream college.

Drama, Drama, and More Drama

Kids already have enough drama to deal with in their daily lives without adding the stress of online drama to the mix. Not too long after my son signed up for Facebook, I caught him engaging in “cyber beef” with a kid who went to another middle school. Now, this boy would not have had access to my son if it weren’t for social media; so it was another instance where I felt like social networking was having a negative effect. Long story short, this boy was unfriended and my son’s profile deactivated while we regrouped and went back to the basics of appropriate online interactions.

I often wonder if we are setting our children up for hard times by allowing them access to social media at such an immature stage of their development. In any case, if you do allow your child to participate in social networking, you must closely monitor their online activity. This is where the consultant in you must step up to the plate; providing guidance, advice, and direction on how your child should proceed with social networking. I also suggest a strict password rule – as in you must have the passwords to all online profiles at all times. Nothing related to your child’s online activities should be off-limits: And if there is something they do not want you to see, then it shouldn’t be on there in the first place.

I want to hear from you!

How do you feel about children and social media? What are your tips for managing a child’s social media activity? Please leave me a comment below and let’s have a discussion.

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