I have always been a big proponent against the use of Social Media by children, especially when they are in elementary school. Interacting with Social Media is not something you want your kids doing at an early age, at least not until they can really understand its implications. However, as they grow older and more independent, loosening up the reigns a bit may not be that bad of a thing.
More and more children are getting cell phones at an earlier and earlier age. This is a good thing in many ways in that it’s easy for them to call if they have an emergency, to text you if they need to be picked up, or simply just free up the home phone (hope you have a good calling plan with lots of minutes!) Many elementary schools simply don’t allow cell phones on campus, which I think is good because it is a distraction and the negatives definitely outweigh the positives.
That being said, as your children move on up the ladder, they will need to have ways to communicate with you and their friends in timely and efficient ways. Having a cell phone can not only help a bit with their independence, it can also be a great virtual assistant when it comes to extending your leash on them just a bit further (and virtually).
My oldest daughter who is 11 years old, for example, does have a cell phone. She texts with her friends and uses it to communicate with us. She also feels “special” and a bit more “adult” by having one. (I’m still trying to figure out if this is a good thing or not.) However, as she moves to 6th grade, it will be important for her to fit in with the crowd and be able to “chat” within the channels of her social peers. While we restrict her phone to calls and SMS texts only, I know that this will probably change in the future as more of her friends become more “socially active” online. Remember though, many of the main social sites require you to be 13 years or older to participate.
So thinking ahead and after having spoken with other parents (especially dads on my Cast of Dads podcast), letting your kids be social when they are in their teenage years isn’t that bad of a thing. For example, using Foursquare to find out where they are (e.g., at the movies or at the mall), might actually be positive from a safety perspective. This all depends on how they use social media on their cell phone (and yes there are plenty of negatives too). But if you spend some time discussing what they should or shouldn’t do with social media on a mobile phone and explain WHY that is so, it might go a long way.
I have used Foursquare on and off on my iPhone as well as the HTC Tilt 2 (as part of the Lose the Laptop June Challenge of “Social Media” – by the way, be sure to VOTE FOR ME and you could win an HTC Tilt 2 for you & your kids!). It’s a truly engaging way to let people know where you are, find out who is at a location where you currently are, and see where you have been in the past. If you set your children up as friends within Foursquare, for example, you can let them know where you are as well as find out where they check in and who they are with. But remember, kids are pretty tech savvy and this it not a foolproof way to track them. And do you really want to be tagged as Big Brother (actually in this case, Big Father or Mother)?
Also, as they grow older, don’t be surprised if they actually un-friend you. There is a point in a kid’s life where they need to assert their independence and at that point, will want to cut you out of their inner circle. However, if you start discussions with them at an early enough age as to how Social Media will affect how people currently and IN THE FUTURE will perceive them, they may actually accept your advice and want to stay involved with your digital relationship. Your relationship may vary, I know.
It is critical though, if your kids are starting to text or engage in Social Media on a mobile phone, that you teach them about bullying and social aggression. There is a good possibility that they will either be the recipient or the instigator or participant in some sort of a bullying “campaign.” And these can get ugly quickly and can truly be detrimental to a child’s psychology and well-being. You need to explain that anything that is posted or shared via texting or social media is PERMANENT and NOT PRIVATE, despite “privacy settings” that are set up by Facebook or others. A picture snapped on a phone and sent to friends can be copied and shared within seconds. A comment made on Facebook or Twitter is never truly private. Most kids simply don’t understand this scary fact and it is the responsibility of the parent to educate them on this critical item.
What I’m trying to say is that it is inevitable that your kids will be on social media and social networks, and much of the communication will be done via a mobile device. Ensure that you do some prep-work and education long before they have access to cell phones or a computer. It is a long-haul educational process. Don’t beat them over the head with it either as they will simply do it behind your back. Try to promote open communication with you and your children and foster that. And when they do eventually get a cell phone, hopefully something as cool as the HTC Tilt 2, actively work with them on how to and not to use it.
“Friending” your children on Social Networks can go a long way, provided they let you into their inner circle of “friends”. If they actively “check in” at places where they are, you can passively monitor them from any location. Just be sure only to use that knowledge in the appropriate situations (e.g., when their well-being may be or was at risk). And most importantly, spend time face-to-face with them. Social media and networks simply will not replace the critical “face time”.
Disclosure Text : I have a material connection because I received a gift or sample of a product for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was/am not expected to return this item or gift after my review period. More information can be found in my About page as well as here. More information about the “Lose the Laptop” program is available here.
HTD says: Using a mobile device to track and interact with your children via social networks can be a great way to loosen the leash between you and your kids. Just be sure you set the framework on how potentially detrimental using social media in the wrong way can be.