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IS THERE A RIGHT AGE FOR JOINING SOCIAL MEDIA?

Lydia’s daughter, 10 years old is a class 5 pupil and recently Lydia found out that she had joined Facebook. While some parents may find this totally normal, Lydia was terrified. The fact that her daughter was exposed to millions of strangers on the internet really scared her. On her defense, her daughter said that everyone in her class was in Facebook and other social media sites and that it was just for chatting and connecting with friends from school. This however, does not remove Lydia’s biggest fear especially knowing that pedophiles pose as harmless friends on such platforms to easily find their victims.

Parenting in the 21st century means dealing with social media for kids. There is a big debate on whether kids under age 13 should be on Facebook and on social media in general. In 2011, when CEO Mark Zuckerberg suggested that his company might challenge the federal law that prohibits kids under age 13 from signing up for Facebook, parents raised their eyebrows and began a social media firestorm of varying opinions on the matter. He later dialed back on that suggestion, but it made parents ponder and even US first lady Michelle Obama declared that she was not fan of young kids having Facebook.

Social networks are filled with adult content, unfiltered comments and potential for cyber bullying, identity theft and child predators. If you use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter yourself, you have probably noticed kids often sign up for accounts and lie about their age to get online. What are their parents thinking you may ask yourself?  Mario Armstrong, a Digital Lifestyle Expert says on his website: “Just because your kids friends are doing this does not mean it is OK! Just because your child is 13 or older does not mean you should let them online with no restrictions. This should be a parenting decision—just because children are legally old enough to join a social network does not mean they are mature enough to handle the responsibility.”

Since Instagram or Facebook is not for kids, but social networking can be, several companies have attempted to create safer alternatives. Social networks for kids are said to be “built on the balance of entertainment, expression, experience, education and engagement without endangering exposure.” Best of all, kid-friendly social media for kids networks are monitored and include parental oversight to make sure everyone is safe. In addition, Facebook has a help center, called Tools for Parents and Educators, which explains how you can report kids under 13 using the service, how to get photos of your child removed, and how to report abuse on Facebook.

Ultimately, experts suggest keeping a really close eye on what your kids are doing online. For one, keep the computer in a common room of the house so you see what they are doing. Second, start your kids up slow to social media by signing them up on kid-friendly sites. Social networks for kids can be a useful teaching tool, helping kids learn about appropriate etiquette, safe sharing practices and online citizenship. Finally, draft an “Internet bill of rights” where you and your child sit down together at the table and go through it. Teach them things like I will not disclose this. I will not give out this information. I will not connect to these type of people. All of this will make your child realize that they can go and play on these sites, but that they still need to have their guard up.

If this is not enough precaution for you, parents also use monitoring software, or key logging software, which captures every key stroke that their child types or website they visit (and they can have a report emailed to them with what the child is really doing). Ultimately, it is best to have open communication with our kids about the Internet. They will get on the Internet with or without you so you might as well be upfront and guide them well from the get-go.