My daughter is 12 years old and is eager to get her own social media accounts. However, I haven’t given in to her pleas because most social networks require users to be at least 13 years old (to comply with COPPA – Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). All of her friends already use the services and many of their parents have no idea that they have these accounts. After a few of her friends started following me on Instagram, I realized that I needed to learn more about social networks to help my daughter to be safe and to share my knowledge with other parents.
I read a study from McAfee titled, The Digital Divide: How the Online Behavior of Teens is Getting Past Parents. The study has many findings about teen online behavior that will alarm parents, but I was more intrigued by what the study discovered about parents. According to the study, 29% of parents feel overwhelmed by technology and are hoping for the best when it comes to their kids online. 1 in 3 believes their teen to be much more tech-savvy then they are, leaving them feeling helpless to keep up with their teen’s online behaviors. And 22% of parents do not believe their kids can get into trouble online.
As a parent, I understand how overwhelming social media can be. New networks pop up almost daily and teenagers move back and forth between networks so fast that it’s hard for us to keep up. But we cannot throw our hands in the air and admit defeat. We have to remain engaged with our kids, earn their trust, and communicate with them often.
At least once a week, I talk to my daughter about what her peers are doing online. I’ve found that she’s more willing to discuss her friends’ behavior with me. After a few minutes of conversation, I switch the discussion to her. I’ve asked my daughter which networks she’s interested in joining. Her top picks are Instagram, Vine, Twitter, and Facebook. In that order. These talks give me some insight into my daughter’s psyche and identifies how much influence her friends have on her decisions and behavior.
She’ll be 13 in a few more months and I’ll have to decide which networks I’m willing to let her sign up for. In the meantime, I’ve been reading each network’s terms of service (TOS). Like most people, I rarely read these documents when signing up for online services. I simply clicked okay and moved on. My daughter’s desire to have social media accounts has made me much more aware of privacy issues. Reading these TOS documents has been painful, but this exercise as taught me many things about how the networks use our personal information. I feel like a better informed user and parent. I’ve made a conscious decision to become a social media expert for my daughter’s benefit.
I know that I can’t monitor everything she does online, but I can set expectations for her behavior and let her know that I’m here to help her navigate the digital world.