‘My kids aren’t ready for social media’
Janine Dunlop reveals her fears about allowing her kids free rein on the internet.
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Articles that tell you how to protect your children online just don’t cut it for me. Anyone can figure out how to control social media privacy settings. Everyone knows we have to monitor our kids’ internet usage. But it’s the more difficult questions that keep me awake at night. Kid1 and Kid2 are on the cusp of going online. They’re asking for “the internet”, they see all their friends using social media. I’m not ready. Here, I reveal some of my deep paranoia about allowing my kids free rein on the internet:

What age is “old enough”?

How-to articles point you to the official age restrictions for various social media platforms. On Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, it’s 13. On Whatsapp it’s 16 and on YouTube it’s 18. So far, so easy: if your kid is 12, don’t let her sign up for Twitter.

But to me, age in years don’t address how emotionally mature my kid is. How will he handle adult content posted by those he follows? What if someone he doesn’t know chooses to chat to him, and despite my advice, he gets taken in. No, old enough isn’t just a number. There are so many other factors that I should take into account before allowing my kids to sign up for Instagram or Facebook.

How do I teach them not to care about what others think?

Time recently published a sobering article about tween and teen girls on Instagram. The author calls it a place “where emotions can run wild – and where insecurities run wilder”. Girls trade “likes” and mentions to boost their ego and use the platform as a popularity gauge. Something as simple as being excluded from a party pic or not being tagged can speak volumes to tweens and teens.

We all like to be liked. But social media takes our neediness to another level. My job is to instil in my kids the idea that their self-worth shouldn’t be determined by the amount of “likes” they get on Facebook.

Sometimes, no online space is a safe space for children

Time was when I would post photos of my kids on Flickr and chat about them in my blogs, but it took just one negative experience with Flickr for me to become fairly paranoid about my kids and online spaces. They were very young, so small that all three of them could fit in the bath together. I posted a photo of them and tagged it, “3 monkeys in a bath”. It was a discreet picture: you could only see their faces and shoulders, and yet, whereas previous photos had garnered maybe 20 hits, this one almost immediately got over 100 hits. Shocked, I deleted it. The thought of strangers being interested in just the idea of my naked children sickened me.

My paranoia grows when I think of Kids 1 and 2 posting photos of themselves on Instagram or Facebook. What might seem perfectly innocent to us could be downloaded by a perfect stranger and viewed as fodder for their twisted fantasies. Yes, I hear you say: security settings, privacy settings are there for a reason. But I think it’s naïve to think that anything is truly private on the internet.

I’m not ready

I love the interwebs. I enjoy sharing things via social media just as much as the next guy. But for now, Kids 1-3 will live their lives offline. I’m not ready.

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

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