Listen: Collett Smart and Emma Mullings chat about social media for tweens and teens.
If you’ve got a child over the age of about 11, you’re more than likely facing the pressures of social media—or you’re about to.
If so, it’s probably time to get informed about how the online world of teens and tweens works, and how to tackle the challenges it brings. Collett Smart is an adolescent psychologist who’s passionate about helping parents navigate the sometimes mind-boggling internet maze with their kids. In an interview with Hope 103.2’s Emma Mullings, she offered the following tips.
Tip 1 – Know The Social Media Age Limits
Many parents are unaware of the age limits in place on social media platforms. Apps like Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit and Pinterest are limited to users aged13 and over; anyone younger must lie about their age if they want to set up an account.
Age minimums are higher for WhatsApp (16), Vine (17), Youtube, Kik and WeChat (18). And while the Kik age minimum is 18, most users are 11 to 15 years old.
“Essentially [younger] children have to make a fictitious age to get onto social media,” Collett said.
By knowing the age limits, parents will have a good argument for children wanting to start too young.
Tip 2 – Keep Technology In Common Areas In The Home
- 7 Questions To Consider If Your Kids Are On Social Media
- How To Not Exasperate Your Teen: 7 Tips
- Should kids be on KIK?
One of Collett’s greatest rules of thumb for both the families she counsels and her own teenagers, is this: “All technology out of bedrooms, especially at night.”
“I use the analogy that we wouldn’t let our children play unsupervised at Wynyard Station, let them loose and let them talk with anyone, hop on any train they like at any time of the day or night,” she explains. “Yet somehow we are lulled into this sense of security because our kids’ physical bodies are sitting in the house. But online, they are off wherever they feel like going.”
By keeping phones, ipads and laptops in the kitchen or family room your children won’t be tempted to check their social media accounts or surf the web late into the night.
Tip 3 – Get Your Own Online Accounts
If you want to be credible in your childrens’ eyes when it comes to setting boundaries around social media, it helps to have your own accounts.
In fact Collett Smart considers it an essential step. By having accounts on the apps your kids want to use, you’ll have a better understanding of how they work, and avoid being either blasé’ or alarmist about them.
Tip 4 – Know Your Kids’ Social Media Passwords – But Don’t Stalk
While the topic of knowing childrens’ social media passwords is a much-debated one, Collett believes it’s a no-brainer, especially when the children are young.
“Parents will say “we need to respect our childrens’ privacy”, but particularly with younger children, I think love and care trumps privacy every time,” she said. “Our children don’t need a 30-year-old best friend, they need a parent.”
However she adds that children also need to feel that they have some freedom.
“It’s important for kids to know that you might have access to their online world, but that you’re not going to stalk them all the time,” she said. “I don’t advocate for stalking or creeping. But just knowing that their parents have access is important.”
Parenting expert Dr Justin Coulson believes parents should let go of passwords once their teens are older and more responsible in their social media use.
Tip 5 – Play With Your Kids Online
Whether you’re the net-surfing type or not, it’s important to spend time with your kids having some fun online, in order to understand their world.
In addition to creating social media accounts, this can include sitting time with the kids watching their favourite Youtube videos, playing their favourite online games, and using their favourite apps.
Collett says this will help them to know that you’re happy for them to enjoy the online world, but in a safe way.
“Encourage their social lives online, but be vigilant,” she said. “If you create a relationship where they can come to you, and they’ll realise you’re not clueless as a parent, you actually have ideas to help them problem solve.”
Tip 6 – Talk To Your Kids About Their Online World
Good old-fashioned conversations with your kids is one of the most powerful ways to stay in touch with what’s happening in their online world.
But remember to talk with them and not at them, says Collett. Ask about the following:
- What is going on in your online world?
- What do you notice about your friends’ posts?
- What does that say to you about your friends?
- What are you posting online?
- What are your likes and posts saying about you as a person?
Tip 7 – Let Your Child Feel Comfortable To Talk To You
An open, accepting attitude is vital if your child is going to open up about their online world. If you are criticising and reactive, they’re more likely to keep secrets.
“Create a relationship of openness and sharing without judgment and harsh criticisms when children come across inappropriate content,” she said. “Be very careful about how you react to that. Because they won’t come to you again if you shut everything down.
“Let them make some mistakes; that’s normal. But just let them make little messes without exposing them to the worst possible content. That’s why we use time limits, content limits and age restrictions.
“Be very careful about how you react…because they won’t come to you again if you shut everything down.”
“With online bullying, kids may be afraid that you’re going to confront the bully,” she said. “Sometimes their safety means you do need to go to the school and their safety is more important than their worry about you talking about it.
“But tell them, “you can come to me about anything you see or anything that happens, and then we can work out the best solution”.”
Tip 8 – Make A ‘Technology Contract’ With The Kids
Before your children begin to use social media, or even if they are already, it is helpful to come to a ‘contract’ or verbal agreement with them about the boundaries.
The agreement can include
- Time limits on screen use
- Which apps that are allowed / not allowed
- What their phone / device can be used for
- Where they can use their devices
- Who they can add or ‘friend’ in their social accounts.
Collett believes coming to an agreement is essential so that children don’t run away with the technology before you are even aware of it.
“We don’t let our children get on the road without a learner’s license; we don’t let them get in the pool before teaching them how to swim, yet somehow we think it’s okay to let them into the cyber world with no guidelines,” she said.
Tip 9 – Protect Your Kids’ Privacy And Safety
There are many tricks you can employ to protect yourself and your children when using mobile devices, internet browsers and social media accounts.
Collett recommends the website of cyber privacy expert Leonie Smith, the Cybersafetylady, who offers tips and advice to help prevent hacking, cyber bullying and adult content.
Parents can put safety measures in place on their children’s phones and ipads such as
- Setting up adult content filters on search engines
- Hiding Facebook friends lists to prevent scams.
- Filtering adult content on Youtube.
- Putting parent control settings in place on mobile devices.
- Seting up parent control settings on apps
- Choosing the safest messaging apps
- Setting social media apps to private rather than public.
- Entering your kids’ correct ages on app acounts; it affects privacy settings.
- Setting up parent control settings on app stores / play stores so your kids can’t spend money they don’t have.
Tip 10 – Keep The Conversation Going
One conversation when your kids are about to turn 13 is not enough to protect them properly, says Collett. It’s important, and not overprotective, to regularly check in with your kids about what they are seeing online as they get older.
She suggests that parents regularly ask their kids how they are feeling about their social media use, what’s happening in their friends’ online world, and if they’re comfortable with it.
“They will often open up once you ask them about their friends’ worlds and you can get an idea about what happens in their lives online,” she said.
About Collett Smart
Collett Smart is a consultant psychologist, qualified teacher, lecturer, author, wife and mother of three children. She writes on many issues affecting teenagers, at Familysmart.com.au.