For my oldest daughter’s 9th birthday party, she had a sleepover where her friends brought their dolls. They made doll-sized fleece sleeping bags and had a doll fashion show. When it was nearing bedtime, I asked the girls if anyone wanted to use my phone to call home and say goodnight. It turned out most of them had been using their own phones to text with their parents throughout the evening. Nine-year-old girls are young enough to play with dolls but old enough to have their own phones. It was an eye-opening moment for me in terms of what it means to parent a pre-teen in this day and age.
When is the Right Age to Begin?
Among other questions, one issue that has recently raised at our house is that of online interaction. Do you think tweens should have access to social media? I used to be firmly in the ‘no’ camp. If there’s an age limit, they can very well follow it. If they want to talk to a friend, they can borrow my phone and call them.
Lately, though, I’ve been rethinking my position. I am a pretty avid Facebook fan. With our family spread from Puerto Rico to Spain, from Tokyo to California, it’s the easiest way to keep in touch with everyone and see how their families grow. Now, I have no problem sticking to the Facebook age limit. Facebook feeds are too unpredictable and I don’t personally think anyone under 13 should have free access to it. But even so, my kids are naturally curious about it, especially when it means they can see pictures of their cousins and grandparents, and it occurred to me that gently introducing them to social media and helping them learn how to navigate though it was better than banning it completely.
The Social Media Outlet We Chose to Introduce First
Our age cutoff is 10, and our chosen gateway is Instagram. I cautiously allowed my 10- and 11-year-olds to create their own Instagram accounts, identifying it as the lesser, and most easily monitored, of the social media evils. Along with a comprehensive talk about internet safety, we also helped them understand that interacting on social media requires an important level of maturity.
10 Rules For Their Online Account That Must Be Followed
There are specific rules set forth that they must follow in order to show me that they are mature enough to handle an Instagram account. Here are some of them:
You must give me access to your profile. You follow me, and I will follow you.
You must keep your profile set to private. I approve everyone you follow and who follows you. This mostly includes only family, close friends of your same age, and pretty much every single dancer at my daughter’s dance studio. You are allowed to follow and be followed by some of my friends only if I know those friends aren’t prone to peppering posts with foul language or posting racy pictures.
You must be mature enough to understand that your friends have other friends. If you see a picture taken when your friends went to a movie without you, you will understand that sometimes this happens, and nobody is purposely excluding you. If your BFF posts a picture with a BFF that is not you, you are not going to start comment-drama about who is whose BFF.
You will use correct spelling and grammar. U wont spel like dis jus bcuz u can, u no? Sorry that your mom is a writer and former English teacher.
You will limit the number of selfies you post. At the very least, get someone or something else in the picture. Find a dictionary and look up “narcissist.”
You will show me anything you accidentally come across that could be even remotely considered inappropriate. If I find it on my own and know you didn’t tell me about it (refer back to rule 1), it will be grounds for losing your account.
You will not do general picture searches. People post too many weird things.
You will understand that Jesus did not post a selfie of himself for you to repost “to prove you love Him” and He will not “grant you a miracle in 2 days” just for reposting. In a similar vein, you will understand that you will not “die in 3 dayz” if you don’t repost a picture of a creepy girl. Nobody will be given $3 million for posting anything, no matter how many “likes” it gets.
You will not post anything that resembles “like this if u think im cute” or “rate me 1-ugly 10-pretty.” You will not be tempted to base your value on this type of attention-grabbing nonsense.
You will accept that these rules are subject to change at any time. You will accept that your account is a privilege, not a right. You will listen to me when I tell you the internet is an unpredictable place, which is why the internet browser is disabled on your ipod, why our family computer is set up on the kitchen counter, and why these rules exist. You may call me an overbearing helicopter parent in your head, but not to my face. If these rules are not acceptable to you, you have every right to deactivate your account and/or surrender your ipod, and we can revisit the situation at a later date.