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What is a safe age for social media for your kids and how to protect them online

Let’s face it; whether we like it or not, as parents, we often have to rely on technology, our smartphones, and our tablet screens to help us and our children get through the day. Whether it’s easing their fears while at the dentist with an iPad or entertaining them with YouTube clips on our smartphones during difficult meal times, it’s clear that as parents, we will have to lean on technology to help us. Honestly, there isn’t any shame in that! But, what about social tech in the hand of our kids? What is a safe age for social media for our kids really?

A recent survey by the nonprofit research organization Common Sense Media found that children, tweens, and teenagers spend more time online and on social media than ever in America. The study revealed that screen use increased by 17 percent from 2019 to 2021 amongst teens and tweens. In the 2021 in the UK, teens spent over an hour and a half just on Tik Tok daily!

On average, daily screen time went up to five hours and 33 minutes in 2021 from four hours and 44 minutes in 2019. Experts believe the increase is due to the pandemic lockdowns and school shutdowns. With the increased screen time, it’s worth looking into our children’s experience and privacy on social media. It might also be worth looking at the other issues children might face on social media.

Researchers at the University of Ottawa found that while cyberbullying had decreased marginally during the pandemic, internet searches for bullying and cyberbullying on Google increased when schools began to open in 2021.

So, when should kids be allowed to use social media?

What is a safe age for social media for your teen?

According to cybersecurity experts, children should be at least 13 to use social media. Most popular social media platforms, like Facebook, Instagram, and Instagram, require all users to be at least 13 years old before signing up for an account.

However, as parents, we know that signing up for a social media account isn’t all that difficult, and there are many ways that your children can bypass these age restrictions. For example, your children could input a fake birth year instead of their actual birth dates when signing up for an account.

While we want to protect our children and keep them safe from potential dangers online, restricting them from using and signing up for social media accounts isn’t the way to go, regardless of their age.

After all, by supplying our children with the correct information and knowledge on how to manage themselves online, we’re empowering them. It would be wise to insure that we have a dialog with our kids whatever their age, so that we an involved in the conversation with them, rather than finding out they are on the platforms anyway, secretly, and have already got themselves into a pickle…

Instead of thinking about what the safe age for social media is, perhaps we might consider thinking more about our approach to socials, and how we can make sure we are involved from the get go with our kids use of the internet?

With this in mind, here are some things we can do to help our children navigate through the complexities of social media:

1.   Sign up for accounts with them

Instead of preventing your children from signing up for social media accounts, sign up for one with them. As you fill in the information needed to create an account, you can educate your kids on the different types of details they could be giving out and how it could impact them by giving these types of information out so readily.

For example, let your kids know that if they reveal personal information about themselves, such as their school, home address, or phone number, malicious actors could use this information against them in various ways.

Let your kids know why sharing everything about their lives online is not always essential and having some level of privacy is useful sometimes.

2.   Inform your kids of essential privacy features

After taking your children through the signup process for a social media account, you will want to inform them of the various privacy features they need to know that could keep them safe. Before doing this, you might want to read up on the latest functionalities since apps evolve consistently every few months.

Apps like Instagram and TikTok have privacy functions that protect your children’s content, restrict their followers, and prevent unwanted direct messages. On a deeper level, Instagram also allows its users to block people from seeing their stories and enable them to create a ‘Close Friends’ list where they can decide who they want to view their Stories.

3.   Check in on your kids and monitor their accounts

Every once in a while, check in on your children’s social media accounts. Start by scrolling through their ‘Followers’ and ‘Following’ list to ensure there aren’t any suspicious accounts.

Next, if your kids are posting content, check through the comment section of their post and look for anything potentially dangerous, like comments that could appear mean or as harassment.

Lastly, if you have access to your children’s accounts, look at their direct messages, the accounts they’re being tagged in, and their notifications.

Alternatively, many third-party apps allow you to monitor your children’s social media accounts remotely.

A word of warning on this though, think back to being a teenager yourself. We are willing to bet you were fiercely private, so bear this in mind when you do monitor their phones. Be aware that you only really need to look if there is something bothering you, perhaps a change in behaviour, or an increased level of secrecy.

There is a danger that you push your teen away if they feel you are too controlling and are, even worse, snooping into their private life.

4.   Teach them how to handle social media dangers

Before you let them take off with their newly created social media accounts, the last lesson you need to share with your kids is what to do if they’ve encountered any form of cyberbullying, unwanted direct messages, or malicious comments.

Always remind your children not to interact with cyberbullies. Instead, remind them that they can report and block the perpetrator directly on the platform. Afterward, let them know they can always reach out to you if they want to discuss their feelings surrounding the mean comment or strange message they got. By starting an open conversation with your children about the dangers of social media, you’ll make it easier for them to approach you should they face something threatening online.

Priming your kids for what to do and how to act on social media and other online platforms can go a long way in ensuring that they’re well equipped with the right tools and can always turn to you for support should they need it.

5. Let your kids be YOUR teacher

No matter how hard we try, we are not going to be the expert of these social media platforms. Once your kids are on them, they will soon be streets ahead of you in their knowledge of them.

So why not let them teach YOU about how they are using them, or how you might use them to communicate with your teen, or even your own friends.

There is nothing more revealing than a chat with the teen about how to use Snapchat – both in terms of what they know about the platform, and its dangers, and whether not they are using it appropriately and aware of these dangers themselves?

We really hope you like this article on tech exploring the right age for social media and beyond, do check out some of the other technology articles that we have on the site too – it really is an important topic for us, and parents everywhere:

KiddyCharts internet safety resources

More internet safety ideas and resources from the site. Why not come and check them out and see if they help?

There are more ideas off the site too here:

Internet safety tips from the wider web

Here are some more ideas for helping your kids to navigate themselves online safely.

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Helen is a mum to two, social media consultant, and website editor; and this site is (we think) the only Social Enterprise parenting magazine! Since giving up being a business analyst when juggling travel, work and kids proved too complicated, she founded KiddyCharts so she could be with her kids, and use those grey cells at the same time. KiddyCharts has reach of over 1.1million across social and the site. The blog works with big family brands (including travel) to help promote their services, as well as offering free resources to parents of kids under 10. It gives 51%+ profits to Reverence for Life, who fund a number of important initiatives in Africa, including bringing running water and basic equipment to a school in Tanzania. Helen has worked as a digital marketing consultant (IDM qualified) with various organisations, including Channel Mum, Truprint, Talk to Mums, and Micro Scooters. She loves to be creative in the brand campaigns she works on. Get in touch TODAY!

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