Parents and Social Media – What Do Kids Know?

At times, we struggle with talking to the parents of younger kids about the online risks that are out there because they just don’t want to hear it. Of course, any risk that a young child is exposed to is a scary thought for parents, but there is some comfort in thinking that this type of thing couldn’t happen to your family. Many parents think that their child is too young for that thing to be a concern, and put off worrying about it until a later date.

jersey-shore-shrimpYesterday I took a daddy-and-daughter trip to the Jersey Shore with my youngest, who is 7. I took the picture at right while we were having lunch – she is crazy about shrimp.

After taking the pic, I was posting it to Instagram and asked her to pick a filter, which she did. I never mentioned Instagram, or that I was doing anything in particular with the picture.

The following exchange happened later in the day:

Her: “Did you post that picture on Instagram?”

Me: “How did you know it was Instagram?”

Her: “You had me pick the filter. I think that filters are something you use on Instagram.”

Me: “Yes, I did.”

Her: “Let’s check and see how many “likes” it got.”

It’s not like my daughter sees me using that app all the time – I’m not a big Instagram user. I’ve posted a total of 94 pictures on there in the 2+ years that I’ve been a member Where am I going with this? She’s a 7-year-old girl who doesn’t have a cell phone or an Instagram account, for starters, yet she’s already quite familiar with social media. It’s too early for her to have an Instagram account, the age limit is 13.  It’s not too early for me to start talking to her about the risks that come with posting things online, and by the way, she wants an Instagram account.

Parents of elementary school students for the most part are not yet thinking that social media is an issue they need to worry about. Our advice to parents is to start early educating your kids about the risks inherent in online activity and developing a strategy for monitoring what is going on. The idea of “getting likes” is a powerful one, as is the ability to follow a favorite celebrity online (Twitter), creating your own blog (Tumblr) or posting a collection of things you think are cool (Pinterest). How early should parents start in the education process? Before it becomes a problem, certainly. There are three times in a child’s life when parents need to prepare for a different set of behaviors before they happen.

First internet connection – As soon as your son or daughter has unsupervised access to any internet-connected device, including gaming devices, cyberbullies and predators are a risk. In addition to restricting use to age-appropriate websites, games and apps, parents should begin coaching kids how to deal with strangers and negative comments.

First email address – The moment your child sets up her own email address, she will be able to start signing up for websites and social media, whether you know about it or not, and start to develop her own online identity. If you think she doesn’t have her own email address yet, you should ask her.

First cell phone – Smartphones have made the idea of restricting child internet access to a shared computer in a central room of the house an idea that just doesn’t work any more. Almost everything that a youngster can do on a computer can be done on a smartphone, and they will have plenty of access to people who are doing things on their phones to get coaching from when you aren’t around.

My boys are older, and didn’t get their first phone until they were 12 or 13. My daughter won’t be getting one any time soon either, and by the time she does, I’d like to think that she will be well-versed in what the risks are and what good behavior looks like.

Waiting until something is a problem to educate your kids about it is not the right way to go.


Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

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