Kids Using Social Media for the First Time

As my son rapidly approaches his twelfth birthday, I realise that I can't help but address the brilliant but worrying world of social media and all its pros and cons



For me, using a computer offers a very different enticement than it does for my son. I mainly use it for work, general browsing, sharing photos or reading eBooks. And, although I'm not an avid user, I even occasionally keep up with the outside world on Facebook. Up to now, the attraction for my son has been video games, animation and YouTube.

How young is too young for Facebook?

Recently however, he has asked if he can open a Facebook account of his own. Naturally I've said no on the grounds that he's not yet 12 and the rules set out by Facebook state that the user must be 13 or over, however it got me thinking about how I will deal with it when he does eventually open an account.

For starters, secondary school itself has been an eye opener for my son; and in some aspects not in a particularly good way. Having dyspraxia, he can be quite immature and has found the transition from infants to seniors quite tough in terms of integrating with kids up to the age of 18, primarily because of the adult language he now finds himself party to.

Exposure to offensive content online

Of course bad language is part of everyday life (just ask my husband!) but most old boundaries which used to safely contain offensive content within conversation have been well and truly crossed, and sadly this is an even larger problem in the world of social media.

Here, there are no barriers to offensive language, bullying and intimidation. Despite what Facebook and other social networks will have you believe, the highest privacy setting will not give complete protection to a child new to social media.

So what's the solution?

Parental controls of course and keeping the laptop downstairs, ensuring they don't disappear for hours on end to their bedrooms, but also making our kids aware that they really need to toughen up if they want permission to join a social networking site.

We simply can't wrap them up in cotton wool and keep them away from the big bad world and most parents don't want to. What we can do is be open and honest.

Teaching kids how to deal with the pitfalls of social media

Bad things happen and our kids may well encounter some nasty people on Facebook or similar, it's how we teach them to deal with it that is paramount.

Yes, there are some vicious people out there who just want to cause offence and hurt, but most bad comments will be made from some little twerp who wouldn't have the temerity to say it to someone's face. Kids need to see it for what it is and, where possible, try to rise above it.

Communication with school is also key

Schools are now very well briefed in this sort of thing and can offer some really helpful advice together with coping mechanisms for home, especially on how to stay safe from predatory adults - another terrifying business only too real these days.

On a positive note, used properly, social media can be a great thing for kids and shouldn't be discouraged.

Like it or not, it's an inevitable part of young people's lives so it's up to us to try and accept and understand it and guide them as best we can.

One year and counting...!

Jayne, Working Mum and Freelance Editor

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