Like many people my teen years were awkward and full of horrible decisions. If there was trouble to be had, I found it, and the only thing now that gives me peace of mind is that there was no internet to record the whole thing. This is something that factored into my decision not to allow my teenager to have social media until he was 15.
Kids these days have it rough. They are more connected than ever, and this can be a serious problem. When we were kids, if you had drama with your friends at school or were being bullied, you would get a bit of a reprieve when you went home. People could phone and harass you at home, sure, but they would take the risk of having to talk to your parents to do so. These days, kids are so hyper-connected to each other that they can bother each other by text or instant messaging all night and day. And when you are in those vulnerable years, “just turning off the phone” is easier said than done.
Like most kids, my son wanted to have all the different entry points to the internet that his friends did. Skype, Kik, and Instagram were all platforms that my son wanted to access and yet were strictly on my “no” list. We had many fights about this but I wouldn’t budge. We stuck to our guns that we did not want him to have social media, even though “all the other kids” did.
The period between 11 to 15 was hard. Kids come from a variety of different homes with different values. It was hard for my son when other kids had almost unlimited access to these things he wasn’t permitted. It was hard for me as a mother to second guess whether I was doing the right thing. But ultimately my decision was based on an assessment of whether I felt my kid could handle the responsibility and the potential dangers of having access to social media.
My son is very kind, which is a wonderful thing. The flip side of this is that he sometimes was at risk of putting his own needs on hold to try and help other kids. This led to him getting taken advantage of in some cases as well. Even without social media, we noticed that he would very easily get caught up in the budding social factions that would come up between his friends. Who said this, who broke up with whom- It can be a lot for a child, and even seeing how being tied to all these soap opera- like antics just through text affected his life was illuminating. Not having social media just meant there was one less avenue to engage in these conversations, and one less distraction from school.
I certainly wasn’t gullible enough to believe he didn’t have access to social media. I know that he did when he was at his friend’s houses, and that he probably had his own accounts set up. Where there’s a will there’s a way. However, at our house he had monitored access to the Internet, and he did not have data on his phone. We tried to take the time to explain why internet safety was important, and to have frank discussions about social media and cyber-bulllying. It can be very easy for kids to become caught-up and not take the chance to think about whether their behaviour is harmful to others.
During this time, he had many friends get embroiled in issues when it came to inappropriate behaviour on social media. The police came to his school regarding a case of bullying, and he actually admitted relief that he wasn’t involved, due to his lack of access. As the years went on we noticed his responsibility and comprehension of the importance of how you behave online to increase. This meant that when we moved to a new town when he was 15, he was allowed to have social media in our home to keep in contact with his friends.
The decision whether or not to allow your kids to have social media is a personal one. If there’s any advice I would give it would be to make that decision based on what you see in your child. Also be realistic- nobody wants to think their child is capable of being mean online, however it can be easy for kids to get caught up in the frenzy of adolescent social chaos. Whatever your decision is, it’s important to also make sure that you keep those lines of communication open, so that your kids are always getting the message that safety and kindness matter- online and in person.
More About Teens and Tweens:
- How to Handle An Angry Tween
- Too Early For My Pre-Teen Daughter to Remove Her Body Hair?
- I’m Afraid Puberty Will Ruin Everything