Should your child have a social media account?

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At ages 7 to 11, children are still thinking very concretely, and they haven’t yet developed the ability to consider hypothetical situations.

It’s hard to shield our little ones from technology in the age of information and the Internet. Sooner or later they will be exposed to it.

Like sex and alcohol and drugs, the internet should first be introduced to children by their parents. That way children will get to understand what it is for as well as its pros and cons in a safe way.

But when it comes to social media, should a child be exposed to it at all, especially in this generation where we see children as young as seven-years-old having a Facebook or Instagram account?

According to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, opening a social media account for children ages twelve and below is illegal without verifiable parental consent.

“The law was created to keep companies from collecting data about kids and marketing to them,” says Stephen Balkam, the founder and CEO of the nonprofit Family Online Safety Institute.

Yet, many find a way around it.

“At ages 7 to 11, children are still thinking very concretely, and they haven’t yet developed the ability to consider hypothetical situations,” says Lisa Strohman, Ph.D., founder and director of the Technology Wellness Center.

“So an 8-year-old girl posting a video about how to do her hair is just thinking, ‘My friends will see this and it will be great!’” she added. “She can’t take that next step and think about who else might watch that video and write mean comments or even repost it and use it to sell hair products.”

Meanwhile, according to Michael Rich, M.D., director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital, some children may be able to handle social media under the legal age of 13, but most probably can’t.

If you do decide to allow your children to own a social media account, there are things that as a parent you must do.

Dr. Rich suggests that parents should themselves have an account on the website to familiarize themselves with its uses and safety details. It’s also crucial for a parent to learn a website’s lexicon to effectively understand its features.

You must also be able to tell your children that should they run into any problems online, such as bullies or pedophiles, they can come to you for help.

“It’s a conversation you have to begin before you give him the device or let him join the site, and you must keep the discussion going,” says Stephen Balkam.

Parents must be able to set up ground rules for Internet and social media use. Children, on the other hand, should also understand that if they break any of them, there will be consequences.

This story is based on a Parents story titled, Should Your Child Have a Social Media Account?

READ: Why kids need to learn how to be smarter than the internet

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