Column: How young is too young for social media?

Q: What age should I allow my children to start using social media?

A: Raising children in the digital age is forcing parents to deal with questions that can’t be answered by a previous generation of parents.

I can remember when my daughter was 10, she proclaimed that she was the only one of her friends that wasn’t allowed to watch PG-13 movies. Today’s parents are going to be faced with this same proclamation with many other adult-oriented social sites like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

As with many other aspects of parenting, the answer to the question “when are they old enough?” is going to be different for each child and situation.

The child’s maturity level along with your relationship with them should play a big role in making the decision.

Starting this process off with a discussion about the pros and cons of engaging in social networks is a much better approach than just telling your child “No, because I said so.”

Technical age limits

Most popular social networks require that a child be at least 13 to sign up for an account, but it’s not necessarily a parental guide. Most networks are doing so to comply with a law enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, called COPPA, or Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The law was created to prevent companies from gathering certain types of information on minors.

Despite that, there are plenty of experts that believe that until the age of 13, most children lack the cognitive ability to fully understand adult-oriented social situations. Keep in mind, this is a general guideline (like PG-13 movie ratings) and not a line in the sand for all parents.

For a better understanding of the typical 13-year-old’s mindset, check out Common Sense Media’s overview.

Accessing your child’s ability to understand things like the context of a post (many adults still have a problem with this!), cyberbullying or inappropriate content should be your primary guideposts.

Age-appropriate platforms

Waiting until a child is 13 to engage in any type of social platform isn’t necessarily the best approach in the digital age. Pretending that they won’t be exposed to social networks until you decide it’s time isn’t very realistic, so it’s best for you to be the one to introduce them to it.

There are plenty of age-appropriate and COPPA-compliant platforms for children under the age of 13 like Lego Life and Kudos or you can create your own private social network with options like Gecko Life.

Getting together with other parents to create a controlled network with only friends and family is another method of introduction to social media you may want to consider.

A comprehensive list of kid-safe options is posted here.

Setting guidelines early

The earlier you start setting up the guidelines for your child, the better. Making sure they have a grasp of things like privacy issues, mindful posting, identity theft, what cyberbullying looks and feels like, and an open ongoing dialogue with you is critical.

Making sure you have access to everything they use, following them on the same networks and limiting their connections to people that you know in the real world are essential early in their development.

Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on Facebook or Twitter.

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