Social media comes in many forms, and different age groups have different preferences and use patterns for the platforms they use. There are some significant concerns surrounding child development, mental health, and safety when dealing with social media platforms that can be tricky to navigate.
Firstly, where Discovery Elementary School students are concerned, you can equip yourself with knowledge of the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act, or “COPPA,” pronounced [ CO-pah ]. COPPA is a Federal Law that says many things, but chief among them is that companies who allow children under the age of 13 to use their technologies must secure parental permission for that use. Consequently, many companies – like Facebook, for example – do not allow children under the age of 13 to use their services, as they do not guarantee that they comply with COPPA.
Age-Appropriate Social Media
While there are social media platforms curated by educators for use by students – such as Edmodo – generally children seek social interaction rather than academic content during their recreational screen time.
There are age-restricted child-specific social media platforms that may serve as an “entry level” opportunity for you and your children, if you are interested in beginning good social media habits early. Common Sense Media has reviewed several, including YourSphere. These links are not endorsements, but merely examples of resources that families can consider. It is important that any child using any social media platform has good Media Mentoring.
In any social media context, a few key factors should be part of the conversation.
Privacy Settings are critical. By setting social media so that only approved, known individuals can see content and interact with the user, users can keep themselves safe from unwanted or unknown individuals. However, insist that you are “friends” or “connections” with your children on all of their social media platforms, no matter their user name or identity. As a parent, you should exercise your right to monitor and control the social media activities of your children, while they are children. While stringent “do as I say, not as I do” orientations can frustrate a child (when what children see modeled does not match what they’re being asked to do, they can become confused), generally it doesn’t take much to explain why kids have different rules than adults when it comes to online options, and most children can understand a desire to keep them safe from harm. Additionally, while we do want children to have privacy, age-appropriate scaffolding to help them develop good habits and make good choices around privacy may require an incremental approach that begins with observation, involvement, and partnership, which is not a punitive approach, but a constructive desire to help children expand their understanding of how to be safe.
Appropriateness is a challenging concept, especially as children become teenagers. The old adage “everything you post online is there forever” may not always be technically true, but it is increasingly The Wayback Machine actually true. is just one example: There are servers that literally crawl the internet to find everything they can, all the time, and save them. It’s important to exercise good judgment. Consider generating a mutually-agreed-upon list of criteria that every post should meet, and keep it near technology – even on the case of the iPad! – so that children have a point of reference when they “think before they post.”
Mutual Respect is essential. One doesn’t have to be friends online, to be friends for real, and the opposite is also true. By connecting online, a person assumes more responsibility, not less. Anonymity is a powerful intoxicant for some people, allowing them to push the boundaries of social appropriateness and even kindness because they feel there are no consequences, but there is a thinking, feeling person on the other end of the connection. When others exhibit mean-spirited or inappropriate behavior, disconnection from or blocking that person is an immediate remedy, but the door should always also be open to discuss with you how they feel and what good choices can lead to avoiding unpleasant and harmful online interactions in the future.