Is Your Kid Ready for…Instagram? Snapchat? Twitter? Facebook? | Working Mother

Is Your Kid Ready for…Instagram? Snapchat? Twitter? Facebook?

It's inevitable that kids will migrate to social media. But when are they mature enough for what? Here's the 411.

Tip: Your child should turn off geo-tags in his Instagram account.

Photo: iStock

If you’ve got a middle schooler—or a kid who can’t wait to be one—you’ve probably heard: “OMG, Mom, everyone is on Instagram!” Or Snapchat. Or the latest social media app du jour. But with all the concerns about digital safety (including the recent teen sexting scandal in Colorado) you may be wondering: When’s the right time to allow your tween or teen access to social media apps?

The simple answer: Most social media sites require users to be 13 or older, and for good reason, says Augusta Nissly, program coordinator for the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI). “That’s really the age when most kids are developmentally ready to handle the responsibility of social media,” she explains. “However, you’re the best judge of your child. If you feel they’re still too impulsive to make good choices, it’s a good idea to delay their access, or move into social media more slowly.”

If you opt to let your 11- or 12-year-old fib about his/her age and join earlier, know that you’re probably violating the app’s or site’s terms of service. Your child’s account could be disabled if he/she is reported for being underage, says Nissly.

Here’s what you need to know about some of the most common social media apps:

Instagram

What it is: A photo-sharing and social-connection app.
Suggested starter age: 13; good for social media “beginners.” Widely used by teens and generally a fairly safe option.
Parents should know:
• Instagram and Snapchat are probably the two most popular social media apps among today’s teens, says Nissly. Kids often use them instead of texting.
• Users usually go by nicknames, so it’s tough to find someone without knowing their user name (good for safety).
• Your child’s account can be set to private so they must “approve” anyone who follows them.
• Kids can chat privately and in groups via Instagram’s “Direct” messaging option—no photo required.
• Geo-location tags can identify where your child was when a photo was taken (your home, their school…yep, creepy). FOSI recommends having your child turn off geo-tags in their account.
• Kids can inadvertently see inappropriate images (by people they don’t know) when searching for particular types of photos via hashtags (#).

Snapchat

What it is: An app that allows users to send “snaps”—photos and videos—that friends can view for up to 10 seconds before they disappear.
Suggested starter age: 13–14, or older. Better for mature teens, since there’s greater chance of mischief. Be sure your teen knows never to snap inappropriate images because they may not be permanently deleted (see “screen shot” below).
Parents should know:
• Although a “disappearing photo” app immediately sounds like a no-no, this app actually isn’t so bad, says Nissly. Teens tend to use it to send silly and less-than-perfect photos and videos—quite different from Instagram, where photos may be elaborately planned and styled.
• Users can create “Snapchat stories”— collections of photos and videos that anyone who follows them on Snapchat can see.
• Privacy: Kids have to approve anyone who wants to add them on Snapchat. Snaps can only be sent to people they have added (authorized).
• Users get an alert if someone takes a screenshot of one of their snaps.
• Users can draw on or add text to screenshot images and resend them to friends.

Twitter

What it is: An app/site that allows users to “tweet” 140-character messages and images and search for information and images via hashtags (#).
Suggested starter age: 13–14 or older. Better for mature teens due to the unfiltered information they may access—i.e. live tweets related to the November 2015 Paris bombings.
Parents should know:
• Some teachers use Twitter to tweet useful information to students.
• Can be a great way for teens to follow current events due to news items that are listed as “trending.”
• You should coach your teen on identifying “reliable” Twitter sources. A verified news agency’s report may be more accurate than a passerby’s random tweet.
• Users can “direct message” each other. Those chats won’t appear on their public timelines.
• FOSI suggests having your teen turn off Twitter’s geolocation tagging.

Facebook

What it is: An app/site for sharing updates, photos and videos with Facebook “Friends.”
Suggested starter age: 13; good for digital beginners. However, your teen may not even be interested!
Parents should know:
• Facebook (FB) used to be the social media site of choice, but many teens now consider it outdated. They may only use it to post photos for grandparents and other relatives. • Teens can chat privately with FB Friends via its Message function, or on mobile devices with FB’s separate Messenger app. • Privacy: FOSI suggests your teen make his/her account private. Your teen will need to approve “Friend requests” so only people they know can see their posts and photos.

Digital Safety Guidelines

No matter which apps and sites you allow your tween/teen to use, FOSI suggests these general rules:
• Require your teen to give you all user names and passwords.
• Join every social media site your teen does and at least learn the basics of using it. Follow your teen on each app/site—and let them know you’ll be doing so—to monitor their activity. Don’t comment on or “like” all of their posts; remain in the background.
• Impress on your kids that nothing digital is ever really deleted. They should only share comments and images they’d share in person—and are willing to have accessible for years to come.
• Don’t hesitate to require your teen to remove inappropriate comments, posts or images. Major misbehavior could result in you temporarily “grounding” them from an app or even deleting their account.
• Spot-check your child’s phone and web browser. If you see unfamiliar apps or sites, talk to your child about them. Research them online (at sites like FOSI.org or CommonSenseMedia.org) to decide if they’re appropriate for your kid’s age and maturity level.

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