Strengthening families by building strong relationships, opening up lines of communication, and working out ways to navigate tough technology and social media situations together.
Kids and Social Media
The lines are blurry and the stakes are high when it comes to allowing tweens and teens to begin using social media accounts. How old is old enough? What social media platforms are appropriate at what age? The bottom line is, it’s different for every family and for every kid. In fact, you may change your mind in the course of a few minutes – and maybe that’s not always a bad thing. I found this out when my daughter got her first cell phone this summer.
No Social Media Until Age 13 – Maybe…
When my daughter got her phone as a sixth grader, she was one of the last in her class to get connected. However, it didn’t take her long to start adding contacts and downloading apps. Our initial rule was no social media until 13. I was planning to be super strick about this… no exceptions. But as you can imagine, It didn’t take long before my rule was put to the test.
Ella’s cousin is a couple of years older than she is and was eager to help her get her phone set up (with the important things, of course). They were busy making sure the phone had the perfect wallpaper and a few good games to get her started. By the time they were finished, they were both super excited with the results. One of the things she couldn’t wait to show me was the new Pinterest account they set up. Both girls had already started creating and sharing boards with each other. They were really pumped about the whole idea.
That is, until I put the brakes on their happy train. Neither one of them realized that Pinterest was a social media platform. They were in definite violation of my #1 top priority rule. As I broke the news to the girls, I saw their dreams of shared hairstyle boards and funny memes fly out the window. It made me have a change of heart – but not just because I’m a real pushover in the mom department.
The librarian in me started to take the reigns. I began to consider how Pinterest might just work for everyone involved. If Ella kept the account, I could ease her into social media by giving her limited access in a trusted environment. I could use Pinterest as a sort of stepping stone into more complicated social media platforms. At the same time, Teagan and Ella could stay connected and up-to-date on hairstyles, memes, and other stuff middle school stuff.
So here’s what I did in three steps…
The 3 Steps
1. Create a Pinterest Account and Go Through Privacy Settings Together
Ella had already created a Pinterest account with Teagan. I looked over the account with Ella to make sure it was set up properly. I made sure she had not used any location tags or personal information, and made sure that her username was appropriate.
Then we moved on to looking at the privacy settings. Pinterest’s settings are pretty easy to understand. There are buttons to hide your profile from search engines and advertisers if you choose. When you and your tween are looking at these options, It’s a great time to have a conversation about sites like Pinterest and Google that collect information about users.
How do they use the information? Do they sell it to advertisers? Do they use the information to customize their searches for each user? Should this change the way we, the user, evaluate and use the results we get from these websites?
2. Only Allow Private Boards and 1 or 2 Trusted Followers
One of the nice things about Pinterest is that it is easy to control who has access to your boards and pins. You may have one friend/family member or a few friends/family members to include as first time followers. Make sure they are trustworthy, and you and the friend’s/family member’s parents are on the same page as far as technology guidelines for your kids. Communicate with them about your Pinterest plan before you begin.
For Ella, as a new user, we kept her social network very small. Small as in one person she follows and one person who is following her – her cousin Teagan. We also took advantage of Pinterest’s private boards. All of Ella’s boards are private. The only person who can see her pins is Teagan. Of course my husband and I also have access to her phone and to her account at all times. We also communicate with Teagan’s mom (my sister) about the boards if necessary.
3. Monitor and Discuss Boards on a Regular Basis
One of the main items discussed when Ella got her phone was that Mom and Dad would have full access to it at all times. That included all text messages, games, and, apps. When Pinterest came up, I talked to her specifically about it, making sure she understood the importance of following the guidelines we had set – private boards with Teagan only.
When Teagan had a group board and asked if Ella could join, we said no, not yet. We explained to Ella that sharing with just Teagan was a great way to test the waters, and we weren’t going to go beyond that until we had more experience. Over the past several months, Ella and Teagan have developed some great boards and discussions around shared interests like fashion, entertainment, arts, and crafts. Talking to Ella, she is glad to have the opportunity to create the boards with just Teagan. It’s given them more “together” time even though they live several hours apart.
When creating boundaries and making sure they stay in place, it’s definitely important to monitor your tween. But more importantly, kids need parents and adults to talk to them about what they’re doing online. The greatest part about this whole thing has been seeing various pictures, projects, and memes Ella has pinned to her boards. She hasn’t “shared” them with me via Pinterest, but we do talk about them. Instead of just monitoring what she’s doing, I make time to ask her what she’s doing online. I love seeing what she comes up with and hearing her explanations for why she likes a particular picture, craft project, or meme. It gives me such insight into her personality and character, and it deepens our relationship.
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So far, the Pinterest experiment has gone really well. It has been a great way for Ella to get a taste of Social Networking. She’s had a chance to connect with one of her best friends, her cousin Teagan. I feel like slowly we will be able to give her more freedom and expand her access to other social platforms.
Is there a social networking progam that you feel works particularly well for your child? Do you use specific privacy settings on social networks? When do you think tweens and teens should be allowed to have social networking accounts? Post in the comments and let us know!