All my friends use social media, so why can’t I?

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It was inevitable that this day would come – the day your daughter tells you that she wants to get her first Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook account. Social media is everywhere, and seemingly everyone is on it, so it is understandable that she would want to be a part of it.

But the question of when your daughter should get her first social media account is a complicated one. The truth is that there is no “right” age for children to join social media – although there are age limitations on sites like Facebook and Instagram (which require that users be at least 13 years of age) these are not policed or enforced. Parents must therefore decide whether their daughters are mature enough to have their own social media accounts, and to be active participants in their online lives.

4 things to talk about before she joins social media:

1. Leaving a digital footprint

Information posted online can be very difficult – or in some cases, impossible – to remove. It is therefore really important that you remind your daughter to think carefully about what she posts on her own, or others’ social media channels,
as an inappropriate comment that she makes, or a picture she shares in her early teens can follow her around when she is looking for her first job or applying for university.

2. Staying safe online

Just as you taught your daughter to look both ways before she crosses the road, so you can teach her to look out for herself online. You can:

  • Set her account/s to “private,” or encourage her to do this herself.
  • Choose a safe username that doesn’t reveal all about her identity.
  • Advise her to only accept friend/follow requests from people that she knows.
  • Show her how she can manage location services so that she doesn’t accidentally share where she is.
  • Set up alerts on her phone that will let her know if she has been tagged in others’ photos.
  • Insist on sharing her password/s as a non-negotiable part of using social media.

3. Being open and honest

Fact: no parental control is 100 per cent effective when it comes to social media. Children can set up other accounts that you know nothing about, use sites that are encrypted in ways that are not recognised by parental controls, or have the ability to bypass parental controls altogether. As you cannot monitor your daughter’s activities all the time – and as you want her to come to you if she is feeling uncomfortable, unsafe or unhappy about her online experiences – it is vital that you and she build and maintain trust around her online behaviour by talking about her social media experiences openly and honestly.

4. Staying connected with each other

There is a lot to love about social media – especially when it enables you to connect and stay in touch with friends and family (especially Grandma or Grandpa!). And let’s face it, social media is here to stay. The fact that “everyone else uses it” isn’t reason enough to set it up for your daughter and then just leave her to her devices. As her parent or carer, it is your role to set the rules, to monitor her use and to continue the conversation about how to avoid potential dangers in order to make her social media world a safe and enjoyable one.

Keeping the lines of communication open between you and your daughter from a young age is the very first step. Trusting your instincts is a very close second. If you or your daughter start to feel uncomfortable about any online behavior or activity, it could be time for her to step away for a while or for you to step in.

For more information, visit the Office of the eSafety Commissioner: www.esafety.gov.au