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By Jamie Butow
As kids of all ages have gone back to school in recent weeks, many parents are hearing, "Can I join this site? All my friends are on it." Many tweens are probably predicting their early and painful deaths if not allowed to have an Instagram or Facebook account. Maybe they are trying to convince their parents that a smartphone really IS a required school supply.
Ironically enough, a old friend of mine -- wait, let me rephrase, as we are NOT old, despite what our joints tell us -- a longtime friend from junior high school messaged me for some advice.
Her 11-year-old daughter just started junior high and came home asking to join Instagram, which is the site for teens these days.
As a single mom who works full time, with dad living out of state, her daughter has had a cellphone for some time. Mom makes a point to check it regularly and keep tabs on everything coming and going.
They'd talked about Facebook, with the understanding she was too young.
"I feel it's more of a burden than kids this age should have to bear given the insecurities of this age group anyway," she wrote. "I'm not easily swayed, but also realize it's a big way many tweens are socializing these days."
She asked me to send her any info I had on the site, and asked what I thought about her daughter joining.
I replied honestly -- that Instagram seems to be one of the worst sites, as it isn't very responsive in removing questionable content.
I told her that even if her daughter's account is completely private, she has to be careful about the "friends" she allows to follow her.
Good friends are good, but those casual acquaintances her daughter may not know all that well can take a screenshot of something she posts and repost it publicly.
That's the reality of social media. When you allow someone access to your private world, you have to trust that they will respect your privacy.
As adults, we are (generally) more mature and respectful about this. But let's face it: Tweens and teens act on emotion most of the time and don't always have the best judgment.
Social media affords them the opportunity to lash out at someone without fully assessing the consequences.
My friend and I discussed the issue, and I pointed her to the following sites:
All are good resources for parents looking for more information on kids and social media.
Here are my most important tips for parents:
* Always have your child's account passwords and log in as them regularly.
* Mandate they must remain "friends" with you on social media sites. This means signing up and using an account of yours.
* Cellphones should be charged overnight with parents, and parents should check texts, emails, photos and videos daily. Remember, you are legally responsible for them until they are 18 years old.
* Start the conversation and start exploring social media at an early age. The older they get, the more likely they are to rebuff your advice.
My column last week included a note about the new video game policy in our house -- a strict ban on them Monday through Thursday.
I'm happy to report that Week One went well, with no child being hospitalized with severe withdrawal symptoms.
While this policy seems to work in our house, other families have different solutions that work for them. Reader Patrick319 commented online:
"I let him play first when he gets home. I give him about an hour to do what he wishes and THEN set a time for him to get off the comp[uter] and start the homework. He's not in a rush and he has had a chance to relax, and with a family of 5, there's less going on around him from 7 to 9. I've let homework be the last thing he does so that is ALL he needs to focus on. I noticed he gets better sleep coming off reading, writing and arithmetic then coming off video games and horse play. If he doesn't get the work done, he doesn't get the computer time the next day."