My Middle School Kid Wants Social Media

These days, it's hard for parents to avoid social media. You probably use it, your friends use it, and chances are your kids use it too. More and more young children are joining social media platforms, even though the US Surgeon General warned that it may harm mental health. 

If your teen is ready to sign up for their first social media platform, there are some simple ways to keep them safe online. According to psychologists, the key is education and awareness. But before diving into that, run through this list to make sure your child is ready.

Are they at least 13-years-old? 

Legally, children must be at least 13 to join these social media sites. The age minimum here has nothing to do with readiness, like a movie rating. Instead, it's because these platforms gather loads of data, and kids under the age of 13 are federally protected from that. 

Are they capable of realizing potential dangers? 

Sexting, online bullying, depression and anxiety, addiction are all very real products of social media use. Make sure your teen understands how to spot these dangers, even in nuanced situations. 

Are they capable of coping with a dangerous situation? 

If your teen finds themselves in an uncomfortable situation, they need to be able to trust that you will help them---even if a stranger online threatens them into secrecy. 



How to Introduce Teens to Social Media

First, it's important for parents to educate themselves about the dangers of social media and then pass that knowledge on to their kids. Parents should familiarize themselves with the privacy settings available to protect their children. Privacy settings vary across platforms, so it's good to research each one individually.

Experts recommend introducing just one platform at a time. For new users, it's important to have a private profile, limit the personal information shared online (like addresses and phone numbers), and be cautious about accepting friend requests from strangers. 

Talk to Your Teens

Having a strong relationship is one of the best ways to help your teen online and offline. So talk to them in depth about potential dangers before they sign up and remind them frequently. 

Talk to them about the pressures of engaging in sexting and cyberbullying. Spending a lot of time on social media can lead to unhappiness, sometimes due to comparing oneself to others and spending less time on real-life activities. Teens need to understand that social media presents a curated and often unrealistic version of reality.Additionally, general social media use has been linked to increased anxiety and depression.

Your teen should realize that what they post online is permanent and can impact their future. 

Lead by Example

Who has more influence than a parent? Consider narrating your smartphone use, so your teens know that you're checking the weather or texting a friend opposed to mindlessly scrolling. When you open a social platform or game, set an alarm to set your intention. And if you come across a post that gives a you a negative feeling, use the opportunity to describe what you saw and how you felt.

Set Boundaries Together

By telling your teen that they are limited, "Because I said so" teaches them nothing and undermines their autonomy in their own lives. In their teenage years, it's essential for kids to develop a sense of self. Experts say that parents should collaborate with their children. Try encouraging your kids to examine which paths will serve them best, and explain why certain boundaries are essential. Once clear boundaries are established, teens will feel more secure in their social media use and have a better experience. 

Social media can be daunting for both parents and children, but by teaching children to make smart choices under the umbrella of a trusting child-parent relationship, parents can help them stay safe online.