How to know if your child is ready for social media

girl in pink shirt using black laptop computerHas your child shown an interest in having their own social media accounts? For some kids and teens, having a social account can seem like the key to their social lives. Whether it be Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok, Snapchat, or Youtube, social media is a great tool to use for socializing, keeping up to date with friends and family, and making new connections. But it can also have negative impacts if not properly used, and these impacts can be especially dangerous for children. So, how do you know if your child is ready to step into the social media universe?

Most social media apps set a minimum age for their users, but it’s a good idea to base your decision about social media use on your child’s maturity rather than their age. But what does ‘mature enough for social media’ look like? Below are some indicators that you can use to tell if your child may have the right level of maturity to have their own social media accounts.

1.Your child understands outcomes and consequences
When you go to post something online, your first thought is most likely ‘wow, this is going to be out on the internet forever’. You may also know that even if you delete something from your profile, it is likely not completely wiped from existence. This thought lives in the back of the minds of many adults that use social media, and it helps us remember that our actions on social media can have consequences later on.

Yes, that picture of you after a night of heavy drinking may be seen by a future employer, and that embarrassing Facebook fight that you got into will still be there years later for your family and friends to see. As adults, these types of abstract thoughts may come more easily and this can allow us to consider how we may regret certain actions or words in the future. For children (especially those under 11), decisions are made in the ‘here and now’, which makes it difficult to play out hypothetical situations in their minds. While this is a normal part of growth, it is one reason why younger children may not fully understand the risks of social media.

Some children develop the ability to have abstract and hypothetical thoughts earlier than others. If your child is able to plan ahead for different outcomes, consider situations from multiple angles, and improvise different solutions, there is a good chance that they have developed their ability to understand the cause and effect process. Don’t be afraid to check in with your child’s ability to visualize different social media consequences before deciding if they are ready to get online.

2. Your child has good mental health
Before allowing your child to access social media by themselves, you may want to consider if they can handle the mental impacts, and specifically the impact on their self image. There are some tweens and teens whose self esteem is completely solid, while many others struggle with negative thoughts about their body weight, shape, and overall appearance. Not only does this heavily affect young girls, but it also impacts many boys too.

Since some children and teens are so vulnerable to criticism about how they look, it’s very important to make sure that they aren’t inadvertently making their body image worse via the content that they view. Many of the images shared on social media may appear to be casual and candid, when in reality they are posed and professionally edited. Some studies have shown that heavy exposure to these types of images can make young boys and girls feel worse about their own bodies, and can even lead to disordered eating.

Think about how your child would react to a bully in the classroom – do they let things go easily, or are they worrying over a small comment for days? Do they often compare themselves to others? Can they spot photoshopped images versus truly unfiltered photos? Once you have these answers, you may have a better idea about if they are ready for social media or not.

3. You and your child can agree to open communication
Even if you have the strictest rules in place, you never quite know what your child may come across on social media. While your child may not be looking for trouble, it is easy to stumble across potentially explicit material, and you should make sure your child is ready for that. The best way to do that is making sure there is an open channel of communication between you!

There are a few things that you might want to discuss with your child before they start scrolling on social media, such as: online safety, stranger danger, ‘catfishing’, and inappropriate photos. It’s important that your child is aware of the types of situations that they may encounter, and it’s even more important that they know they can come to you without getting in trouble.

If you have decided to let your child use social media, but still have concerns about their online wellbeing and safety, there are plenty of resources to support you. The key to safe social media use is awareness and open communication, so be sure to read plenty of articles and watch videos to educate your family about being safe online.

While social media offers a great opportunity for kids, tweens, and teens to connect with their friends, it can also add yet another pressure on top of homework, peer drama, and other stressors. If your child is having a tough time navigating these sometimes-awkward stages of their life, they may benefit from attending child therapy. Even things that are so small (like getting a social media account) can seem like a big deal, and a trusted therapist can provide them with the tools and techniques needed to manage all of the stresses and anxieties that life as a teen brings. Contact us today to learn more.

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