Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram typically require their users to be 13 or older, but tech-savvy kids today can easily work around this. By simply providing a fake birthday, for instance, a young child can create an account and access anything on the social media site. Parents may have to deal with their child's social media activities sooner than they think.
How do we approach this as a Christian family? Here are some practical tips.
1. Don't just limit. Plan together.
Many parents would completely bar their children from social media sites in an effort to protect them. This is a one-way parenting approach that could drive kids to use social media secretly instead, without their parents' oversight.
So instead of setting an iron curtain, try collaborating with your kids to plan a social media 'roadmap'. For example, you may discuss with them that they can 'unlock' Instagram until they are a certain age or until they show a responsible attitude.
Add this advice from social media wellness expert Ana Homayoun, M.A., P.P.S: "I encourage coming from a place of curiosity and ask open-ended questions to help children identify why they want to join Instagram, what they think a positive experience on Instagram would look like for them, and who they could turn to if something feels uncomfortable and doesn't go as planned."
2. Educate early and constantly.
Whether or not your child is already on social media, they will be exposed to its offers and perils. They may have friends who are active on these apps, or they may have access to similar websites. As parents, even our best efforts may not completely shield them from such exposure.
It is crucial that we start educating our children early on, so they don't have to rely on what their peers tell them. Discuss with your kids about social media safety, privacy, and dangers. These dangers include inappropriate content, child predators, online experimenting, and scams.
It is also wise to teach them specifics about the site that they use. For example, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram each have different privacy settings that have to be looked into.
3. Cultivate kindness -- both giving and receiving.
We teach our kids kindness in the real world, and this is all the more important on social media. So much bullying, insulting, and argumentation happen on these sites that it's important to particularly nurture our child's online empathy as well as their healthy response to online rudeness.
Show them concrete ways to be kind on social media. This can be a nice comment, a grateful post, or even the appropriate emojis to use. Also teach them what they should not be posting, the same way they should avoid being rude in real life.
On the other hand, when it comes getting bullied, teach your child that it is not wimpy to call for the help of parents or trusted adults. Instead of getting into a fight with a rude person or keeping the bullying a secret, it is much better to call the attention of an adult who can handle the situation.
4. Set time limits.
No matter what age, social media can be a rabbit-hole that can keep anyone glued for hours. Adults may have a better sense of self-control, but kids need help with this. Set definite time limits for your child's use of each app. To do this, there are many available parental control tools you can choose from, whether they are installed on your child's device or setup on your home network.
Don't forget to talk to your child about why time limits are necessary, and the possibility of adjusting these limits as they grow more mature.
5. Remind them of what's real.
The sad truth is that people like to boast or exaggerate on social media, and this can trigger envy in those of us who see it. This can happen among kids, too. When they see their social media friends using new gadgets or going on trips, they may feel jealous or left out.
It is our job as parents to remind our children that what we see on social media is not everything, and that everyone has blessings that don't always get posted. Is your kid jealous of their friend who just went to a theme park? Remind your child about the fun time they had at the beach last summer, or the adventures they had with their visiting cousins. Real-life blessings always abound, even if you don't post it on Facebook or Instagram.
Finally, this is one of the best tips we can share when it comes to kids on social media: practice what you preach. Your children's behavior, online and in real life, will always be influenced by ours. Read and reflect on these timely reminders for Christians using social media.
Do you have other parenting tips regarding social media and young children? Share with us in the comments!