Too young to be in the Social Media Sandbox?

Photo taken from the New York Times; Article written by Nick Bolton Photo taken from the New York Times; Article written by Nick Bolton[/caption]

Although I am not a parent, I can only imagine the dilemma parents face when battling their children for social media accounts. I’m sure parenting might be a little bit easier if there truly was a parenting handbook detailing the appropriate age for children to enter the social media sandbox, but unfortunately there is not. Unlike barbies, action figurines or boardgames, there is no recommended age for letting your children play. Unlike consuming alcohol or drivinig, there is no government-imposed age limit. Because of this, how do parents know when it is appropriate to let their children experience the technological world our generation has grown so accustomed to? In an article written by tech columnist, Nick Bolton in The New York Times titled, “Disruptions“, he goes on to explain his predicament when asked by his nephew if he can create his own YouTube Account to share videos of his Minecraft gameplay with the real world. The question at first seems so innocent but with further analysis, this question raises more alarming consequences, such as cyberbullying or internet ridicule.

After giving this topic some thought, Mr. Bolton concluded that when you break it down, there are basically three social media doors that you can unlock for a child:

Behind Door No. 1: Public sites like Instagram Twitter and YouTube. Anything you post is visible to others but there are options to set content to “private” which helps to add an extra layer of protection and allow parents to monitor content posted by their children more appropriately.

Behind Door No. 2: Private apps like Snapchat and Telegram. These posts vanish after they are viewed….. Sometimes. For parents, this initially might sound safe because their children’s posts are not ending up on search engines, etc. but someone can easily take a screenshot of a private picture and post it publicly.

Behind Door No. 3: Anonymous apps like Secret and YikYak that let people say anything they want, completely anonymously. Seems to benefit the child who is making the nasty comments but not the receiver on the other end who those comments are directed towards. This also does not provide parents much power in monitoring their children’s activity on social media networks. On the other hand, it could prove beneficial to those children who have something powerful to say but find difficulties expressing themselves and would prefer to remain incognito. A direct quote from Mr. Bolton stated:

As a result, YikYak has become such a cesspool that it’s been banned in a number of schools and there are online petitions to shut the app down. Going on Secret, another anonymous app, in its early days was like sticking your head in a sewage pipe. Needless to say, I would caution parents from letting their children go behind the third door”.

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So what about going behind doors number 1 & 2??

This question is extremely challenging but I happen to agree with Mr. Bolton’s logic who is the first to admit he is not a parenting expert, but simply someone who writes about the pros and cons of technology. He stated he would be comfortable with letting children 10 and over join public social media sites — WITH appropriate restrictions and monitoring. In addition, he made some very valid points:

“Children have much to gain from being on social media. They can learn how to communicate in today’s connected world, and to find and share news and information. And sites like Instragram and YouTube allow them to be creative and share things they’ve made. But parents should be vigilant in monitoring what their child posts. In the age of cyberbullying, it also offers a teachable moment. It is imperative that children learn what they say online can hurt others. Teaching someone digital empathy is a dozen times more difficult than teaching them empathy in real life, and whether we like it or not, this is part of parenting today”.

Like any other lesson taught to children at a young age such as the harmful effects of drugs, smoking, underage drinking, etc., the approrpiate uses of social media NEED to be included. Ultimately, the decision is up to the discretion of the parents who are hopefully knowledgeable enough to know when their child is mature enough to be on social media in an appropriate way. This conversation could even be applied to some adults I know. At the end of the day, the importance is about “being respectful on these services, and steering clear of those who are not”.

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One Response to Too young to be in the Social Media Sandbox?

  1. sydhavely says:

    Great post, Lindsay. Check out Dana Boyd’s book, “It’s Complicated” on the use of social media and mediating children’s use of it by parents. Here’s a quick book review: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/27/books/review/its-complicated-by-danah-boyd.html?_r=0. Clearly you’ve focused on an important and growing issue in social media.

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