Introducing a child to social media

Milestones are something that parents monitor and diligently check off from the moment their child is born, so what happens when their teenager is ready for a social media account?

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Written by Cyber Expert:

Taryn Wren

ICT Teacher

Last modified Dec 20, 2021

This is a significant and exciting stage in the life of a young person. However, it can also be a confusing time for parents who may worry about whether their child is fully prepared or the best platform with which to start. Of course, only you will know what is best for your child, but a great place to begin is understanding parental controls and privacy settings.

Both biological age and level of maturity are good indicators for when your child is ready for their first social media account. Although the minimum age for most social media platforms is 13+ years, some parents may find their 13-year-old is not interested in social media, while others have a child who's already been begging for an Instagram account for years. Before allowing your child to dive headfirst into the world of social media, it's worth considering and discussing some of the fundamentals, including how they would handle online public criticism, the importance of privacy protection, and your family rules and expectations regarding privacy settings and parental controls. By being upfront and open with your child about your expectations surrounding their social media use, you will create an open dialogue of mutual inclusion and respect.

Social media apps most commonly used by teenagers

Although the options for social media platforms may seem limitless, those most commonly used by teenagers are TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube. Children and teens use social media to develop and share interests, have fun, and maintain friendships and relationships. All social media apps have differences, but a common thread links them: Users create online profiles to chat and interact with others. The platforms involve uploading photos or videos and sharing links that others can like, tag, or share.

To determine which social media platform is right for your child, you will need to think about how they want to use it and which best suits their needs while helping them to remain as safe as possible online. Getting the privacy settings right will help make things easier. For example, Instagram gives its users a good level of control over their privacy settings, making it a good potential consideration for your child's first social media account so long as these settings remain in place. Creating an open line of communication around social media use with your teen will help alleviate some of your worries surrounding the start of their social media journey. 

Managing privacy

Instagram gives users the option of either a public or private account. A public account allows anyone to follow them without needing permission. In contrast, a private account requires approval from the owner for a new follower to be added before they can see, like, and comment on the account's posts. It can often be challenging to compel teenagers to keep their Instagram account private as a public account attracts more people and, therefore, more potential likes. Aside from managing who can see your child's account through the privacy settings, Instagram also allows users to block and restrict accounts, resulting in the blocked account being unable to search for or access the user profile who blocked them. Ensuring your teenager's Instagram account is set to private, and that unwanted profiles are blocked helps to maintain firm control over who has access to their content and information on the platform.

Managing interactions

Instagram allows users to report posts if they violate the platform's policies or community guidelines. The function is anonymous so teenagers can feel confident reporting content they find offensive, harassing, or bullying. By employing the profile controls, users are also able to audit the comments on their posts. Comment controls on Instagram allow certain words to be filtered so posts containing the flagged words won't appear. Users can also delete comments entirely, as well as filter which profiles can comment on their posts. This helps alleviate some of the risks surrounding cyberbullying, which can be a huge concern for parents. 

Should parents ban social media altogether?

Social media is ingrained in our culture. It appears in apps, television shows, games, and even in the classroom, so it is important to remember that by banning social media altogether, you are removing your child from a significant element of modern culture and society. It can be daunting to expose your child to the risks social media brings, but by starting them out on a closely monitored shared family account, you enable them to experience the positive aspects social media offers while still maintaining their cyber safety. 

Further reading

Parent Guide to Screen Time

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