Realizing time flies and that we have a 12 year old daughter turning 13 in about a month, it was a timely article I read from PEW Research on the subject of where teens spend their time online. I feel we have a good grip on where our daughter spends her time without being overly “hovering” on her every action. She primarily communicates via text messages and Instagram. These seem to be the popular ones among her group of friends at the moment. Luckily, I haven’t had to worry about Snapchat, Yik Yak or any other anonymous apps. Partly, this is due to the fact that I have made her device ask for permission anytime she tries to install a new app on her device. She’s also very active with various activities such as dancing 4-5 times per week, she’s volunteered full time for the past two summers so she has many opportunities to meet new friends and potential lifetime relationships which consumes the potential time she’d otherwise spend online. This led me to think about various subjects that kids are exposed to in relation to social media/online life and expanding on the artile from PEW Research on how to help parents guide their children amongst these new ways of meeting and communicating in 2015.
Full disclaimer – I don’t claim to be an expert but just a parent who’s living by experience and applying as much common sense as possible!
Meeting friends in person is no longer a typical way to meet new people as per PEW’s research. Most kids today are meeting and making friends online. Teens between the ages of 13 to 17 were asked about their friendships and 57% replied that they had made at least one friendship online with 29% saying they have made more than 5 friends online. The majority of the group that made friends online were in the 15 to 17 years of age range.
For a growing group of children, meeting people with similar likes online is easier and highly convenient. There are always risks in meeting new people that it be online or in person. The difference online is, there are ways to “hide” who you really are which does open the door to predators. I still love this video that shows how a mobile device is a potential gateway to communicating with a potential predator.
Most social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter require their users to be at least 13 years of age. Other communication tools like Vine, Tinder and Yik Yak require their users to be 17. As popular as YouTube is, it actually requires the user to be 18 to sign up as a lot of the content can be inappropriate but with their parent’s consent, a child can sign up with their own account at 13. The reality is that many children under the age of 13 are these social media networks with many without their parent’s consent (it’s easy to lie about your age on these sign up pages!).
Facebook is the most popular for kids though I hear more about Instagram than any other social media site with Snapchat being third in the list as per the graphic below. To me, when I first heard of Instagram in its early days, it seemed to be all about selfies with food! It evolved to a photo sharing platform with cool filters for sharing thoughts, opinions and moments via pictures (with hashtags overload!) with the opportunity for your followers (and others) to like and comment. Today it’s a definite selfie centric platform!
Social media has definitely become an extension of how we communicate but with younger children they still need a lot of development in their verbal and emotional intelligence skills. Make sure your child gets some balance in their time spent in social media and allow for activities that allow face to face interaction.
A big challenge for your children is how to behave online. They are already learning how to behave in the real world and then these social media networks add another layer of citizenship. The opportunities to leave a negative comment, to come across and share inappropriate content, scenarios of shame and cyberbullying are some of the things we have to teach our children on top of the real world scenarios they will experience. Learning to unfriend, unfollow or block “friends” online can result in major backlash when you’re back at school. In my opinion, being a good citizen includes being a good citizen online as well. We all want to be treated the same way we’d expect ourselves to be treated so teaching your children the same approaches for online life is key for their well being.
We must accept that this way of communicating is happening, it has some benefits in how our kids can communicate and express themselves and it’s occurring in the real world where even business follow ups can be done via a text message (I’ve done it!). A lot of what we try to teach our kids such as don’t talk to strangers, look both ways before you cross the road, hot water will burn you, etc. applies to online activities. It comes down to strong common sense. I’d says it’s not too early to start this discussion with kids of 10 years or older. My son’s been after me for an Instagram account for 6 months (he’s 11) and I continue to postpone it – I’ve asked him to give me 3 good reasons then I would think about it. The reasons always come back to “Dad, my friends post stuff on there…and they talk about those things on the playground…I feel left out”. I’m still waiting for better reasons but I know it’s just a matter of time…