We live in a world where information about other people’s lives is accessible at lightning speed, literally at our fingertips. The intersection of social media use and child-rearing presents challenges for parents that are relatively new. Raising kids is never easy, and adding social media into the mix creates a whole new level of complexity.
All parents want their children to grow into self-possessed adults, yet the journey towards that moment can leave teens in a uniquely vulnerable position.
There’s no right or wrong age for kids to have social media accounts.
A crucial part of parenthood hinges on being accessible, saying to your kids, “This is how I plan to show up for you.” Teaching teens how to navigate an online world, one full of imagery that pushes boundaries and shadowy corners where hate seems to flow seems to be an especially tender topic for parents.
According to a Pew Research Center survey on kids and social media, 46% of parents with teens are “highly worried that their child could be exposed to explicit content on social media.”
Joanna Schroeder shared that she doesn’t believe there’s an exact right or wrong age for teens to access social media— the “right” age for one teenager might not be right for another.
She explained that an important factor in deciding when your child should have social media accounts is to take into account who your child is and what their particular vulnerabilities are.
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“There isn’t an objective truth for every kid,” she stated. “Every kid has a different need.”
Schroeder emphasized that there’s already so much self-doubt involved in parenting. It’s incredibly valuable to try and trust yourself, knowing that you might have good intentions, and still make a mistake. She suggested “getting ahead” of potential problems with teens’ social media use, letting them know they can always come to you with questions, without judgment.
How parents can prepare their kids for social media use.
Acknowledge the inevitability that kids will see things like explicit content and violence online.
Accepting that they’ll see shocking imagery allows parents to map out a game plan for how to navigate beyond that moment. Schroeder noted that adult content is to real-life what a chase scene is to real driving: it's an action scene, meant to excite, but not something that represents people's actual lived experiences.
Parents can frame the conversation about social media with their teens in an open and ongoing way.
Letting kids know that the door is always open for conversation is a valuable part of the process.
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Framing the conversation as an open-ended one allows for kids to feel comfortable to return to the topics repeatedly. It helps when parents say to their kids, “We want you to come to us with questions, and we won’t judge you when you do.”
According to the American Psychological Association, research has shown that a combination approach around social media leads to the best outcomes– establishing limits and boundaries on social media use, and incorporating conversations about using it.
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The APA suggests adult monitoring of social media use when teens are young, between ages 10 and 14, and then increasing a teen’s autonomy as they grow older.
Using shame as an educational tool doesn’t work.
Evoking shame can lead to kids hiding things from their parents, instead of coming forward when they’re facing challenges. Shame makes kids feel like there's something inherently wrong with them when in reality, all teens are learning to navigate this one particularly rocky, uneven pathway toward adulthood.
There’s no perfect, one-size-fits-all answer to when teens should access social media. There’s some element of the grand adventure of parenting that requires learning to let go and trusting that when your kid makes a mistake— which they will— it serves as a growth point, for both you and them.
Making mistakes and learning from them are a defining part of the human condition; giving ourselves the grace to do so is crucial.
Alexandra Blogier is a writer on YourTango's news and entertainment team. She covers parenting, pop culture analysis and all things to do with the entertainment industry.
This article originally appeared on YourTango