Digital wellness / July 20, 2022

The summer of screens – and social media?

Nimmi Kanji

Nimmi Kanji

Director - Social Purpose Programs, For Good and TELUS Wise

Two youth smile and laugh as they play on a tablet.

As reality goes, many kids these days are spending a lot of time socializing and entertaining themselves online - especially in the summer months - and they’re also introduced to social media at a younger age.

Apps like Facebook’s Messenger Kids show just how prevalent digital communication is even for young kids. Designed for kids under the age of 13 (you have to be 13 to use Facebook, Messenger and most social media accounts), Messenger Kids provides free video calling and messaging on smartphones and tablets. Parents have a dashboard to curate contacts, monitor traffic and set time limits while kids can communicate using filters and stickers.

If you’re considering allowing your kids to take the leap into social media at a younger age than you originally envisioned, what precautions do you need to take? Global News interviewed Dr. Michael Rich, Director of the Center for Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital (Dr. Rich was also an advisor for Facebook in the development of Messenger Kids) about young kids and social media. His view?

Many kids are finding ways to use social networking apps like Tik Tok, Snapchat and messaging, regardless of age restrictions and parental permission, and parents have an opportunity to help kids, “apprentice in this new skill.”

Rich believes that parents can help guide and mentor kids on using social media and messaging apps in responsible, safe and kind ways.

4 tips for parents

Participating with your kids in their early social media experiences can help to build a strong foundation for their teen and adult use of social media. Here are some things to consider:

#1: Explore the apps together

Regardless of which apps your kids want to use, it is important to walk through them together. They may be more tech savvy than you in some ways (hello, Tik Tok), but you have the maturity, experience and developed decision making necessary for responsible social media use. The apps’ terms, conditions and privacy settings must be a vital part of your exploration. Explain what it all means and help kids understand the tradeoff between giving up access to information and access to an app. Once your kids are familiar with the privacy terms and conditions of each app, you can set privacy parameters together.

#2: Develop critical thinking

We as adults know that social media is not reality. It’s crafted, posed and often portrays ways of living and interacting that aren’t reflective of real life. However, many kids aspire to living the “social dream” of an influencer. According to research cited in a welivesecurity (by ESET) article, a recent survey of 2,000 parents of 11 – 16 year olds in the UK uncovered that kids’ dream jobs include social media influencer (17%) and YouTuber (14%). Following influencers and celebrities on social media is exciting, but it is important that kids know their content is carefully curated and not necessarily an accurate portrayal of real life. Followers are not necessarily friends, and comments can be unforgiving. If you remain consistently curious about your kids’ “social” lives, you will find opportunities to help them develop a healthy curiosity about what they are consuming.

#3: Model good habits

Modeling good habits, sharing how you set limits and showing how you craft your “social” persona offer kids real-world examples of being both intentional and vigilant on social media. Do you only post certain details in order to protect your privacy? Do you ask for people’s consent before posting pictures of them? Are you intimate with how each platform works, their privacy policies and any pitfalls that could possibly arise? Having a good example to follow can help kids understand what they should be considering when crafting their own social media personas.

#4: Sign a social media contract

Accountability is a really important part of social media responsibility and a cornerstone of good digital citizenship. Working together, you and your kids can agree on rules, limitations and acceptable behaviours in terms of online reputation, posting positive content and identifying and calling out cyberbullying. You can outline these parameters in a contract you create together or you can leverage the TELUS Wise smartphone and technology contract. Once you both sign, the agreement is “binding” for what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of social media use in your household.

Only you can determine if your child is ready for the world of social media. With some education, clear intention and attentiveness from you, social media can be a positive influence in your child’s life. And you can teach important digital values that kids will carry with them as they become more independent digital citizens.

If you decide to support your kids with taking the plunge into the world of social media, consider completing one of our self-led, online TELUS Wise youth workshops with them - TELUS Wise footprint, designed for younger children teaches the importance of keeping your digital footprint clean, while TELUS Wise in control, for tweens and teens helps kids see the importance of staying in control of their online reputation.

Screen time
Kids & tech
Safe digital habits
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