Parents should be aware of the following to keep their children safe when using social media.

What age should children be using social media? Do they need to be on social media? Will they become social outcasts if they don’t? Parents should monitor their children’s conversations. Does parental control work?

It’s not easy to navigate social media, especially as a parent. Most American teens still use social media. According to the Pew Research Center, 58% of teens use TikTok daily, and 17% of them describe it as almost constant. Snapchat and Instagram are used by about half of teenagers daily. Near-constant usage is at 14% for Instagram and 8% each for Snapchat.

Parents and some teenagers are becoming increasingly concerned with the impact of social media on youth. The lawmakers have taken note and held several congressional hearings about child online safety. Even with an apparent bipartisan consensus, it takes time to make laws and regulate companies. No regulation has been passed so far.

What can parents and teens do while waiting? Here are some tips for parents and kids on how to stay safe, communicate with each other, and set limits on social media.

Is thirteen the magical age for social media?

Technically, there’s already a law that prevents children under 13 years old from using platforms to advertise without parental consent. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which went into effect in the year 2000, long before teenagers of today were born.

In order to protect the privacy of children online, it was necessary to require that websites and online services disclose their privacy policies clearly and obtain parental consent before collecting personal information about kids. Social media companies generally prohibit kids under the age of 13 from signing up to their services in order to comply.

Online privacy is not the only concern for kids. Bullying, harassment, eating disorders and suicidal ideas are all possible.

Parents, educators, and tech experts have been urging children to wait until they’re older to get a phone and access to social networks. One example is the “Wait Until 8th”, where parents sign a promise not to give their child a smartphone before the 8th grade or around age 13 or 14 years old. Many parents wait until their children are older, such as 16 or 17 years old.

The government and social media companies have not taken concrete steps to raise the age limit.

Should parents ban children if the law doesn’t?

“There’s no magic age,” said Christine Elgersma a social media specialist at Common Sense Media. She added that “13 may not be the best age to introduce kids to social media.”

Social media is banned for those under 13 years old. What’s the problem? It’s difficult to verify an individual’s age at the time of signing up for online services and apps. The apps that are popular among teens were originally designed for adults. Elgersma said that companies have made some changes over the years to their services, but they are not major overhauls.

She said that developers need to build apps for children.

Parents of all backgrounds, including tech executives and celebrities like Jennifer Garner, have banned their children from using social media. The decision to ban social media is personal and depends on the child and parents. However, some experts believe that this can lead to children being isolated, as they are left out of conversations and activities that happen on social networks or chat services.

Kids who have not used social media before may be ill-prepared to use the platforms once they reach 18.

Talk, talk, talk

Early is better than late. Elgersma recommends that parents share their social media feeds and openly discuss what they see with their children, even before they reach the age of being online. What would your child do if a friend asked them to send photos? What if your child sees an article which makes them angry and they want to share it immediately?

Elgersma suggests that older children should be approached with curiosity, and not directly ask, “What are you doing on Instagram?” but instead, say, “Hey, I’ve heard this influencer was really popular.” Even if they roll their eyes, it could mean a window.

Jean Rogers, director of Fairplay’s Screen Time Action Network, advises parents not to say “Turn off that thing!” after their child has been scrolling on the screen for some time.

Rogers stated, “That is not respectable.” It doesn’t show respect for the fact that there is a life and world inside that device.

Rogers recommends asking your child questions about their smartphone usage and seeing what information they are willing to provide.

Elgersma says that kids are likely to react when parents or educators “pull back the curtain” on social networking and the insidious tactics companies use to keep users online and engaged. You can watch a documentary such as The social dilemma that explores the algorithms, dark patterns, and dopamine-feedback cycles of social media. You can also read about how Facebook, TikTok and other social media sites make money.

She said, “Kids like to know these things and it gives them power.”

Setting Limits

Rogers reports that most parents are successful in taking their children’s phones away overnight to limit scrolling. Sometimes kids will try to steal the phone, but this strategy usually works because they need a break.

Rogers stated that “they need an excuse to be with their peers not to be on their phones at night.” “They can accuse their parents.”

Parents may have to set their own limits for phone usage. Rogers says it is helpful to explain your phone use when you have it in front of your child. This will help them understand that you’re not just aimlessly browsing Instagram. Tell your child you are checking email for work, researching a dinner recipe or paying a invoice so that they know you are not just on the phone for fun. Tell them when you’re going to put down the phone.

What is parental control?

As the scrutiny surrounding child safety grows, social media platforms catering to children are adding an increasing number of parental controls. Meta, for example, released parental monitoring tools last year, which let parents set time limits and see who their child follows or is following, as well as track the amount of time spent on Instagram by minors. The parent cannot see the content of messages.

As with other similar features on platforms like TikTok and Facebook, this feature is optional and both parents and kids must agree to use it. Instagram’s notice encourages teens to “supervise their accounts” by their parents after they block someone. It’s a way to get kids to pay attention at a time when they may be more receptive to parental guidance.

Meta claims that by making the feature “optional”, it is attempting to “balance teen autonomy and safety” and also prompt conversation between parents and children.

These features are useful for families where parents already monitor their children’s online activities and life. Experts claim that this is not the case for most people.

US Surgeon-General Murthy stated last year that it is unfair to expect parents manage what their children are doing with rapidly evolving technologies that “fundamentally change how their kids view themselves, build friendships and how they experience the universe – technology, by way of the way, prior generations never had.

He said that putting all the burden on parents is “just simply unfair.” – AP

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