Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of visiting the “WFMJ Today” show to talk about digital dangers and teen social media use, safety and privacy.
Toward the end of our chat, co-host Jess Briganti asked me an interesting question: “What do you think the age is that parents can say ‘Kids, you can have a presence online?’”
The entire show that morning was devoted to strategies for keeping your children safe online. It was a lead-up to an event slated for Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Mahoning County Career & Technical Center in Canfield.
Anyone can attend the “Keeping Kids Safe Online” event. It’s free for parents, tweens and teens. If you have questions about being safe online, privacy, bullying or other topics related to social media use, this is the perfect opportunity to get answers.
Briganti’s question to me about age was a good one, but a bit tricky. It’s a question parents often grapple with in their kids’ tween years. I know this because my wife and I are struggling with it now.
I had an age in mind, but I didn’t tell her viewers. The age I was thinking of was in 13 to 14 range.
Now, I’m sure my “magic” age range made some of you laugh. You might have kids who have been online and using social media, using smartphones and messenger apps since they were 10 or 11 (maybe younger).
I know this because friends of my 10-year-old daughter have profiles on Facebook. Of course, Facebook sets its age limit at 13, so there’s clearly a violation in Facebook “Terms of Service” for these underage account holders.
So how does this happen? Some parents are logging in and creating these accounts for their kids. Other parents just don’t know. I actually feel bad for these parents. Kids find loopholes and ways to work around the system in an attempt to find privacy, to test boundaries of adulthood and maturity.
One unnerving side note: Facebook knows your network. Its friend suggestion algorithm is stunningly successful at recommending new friends. But sometimes it’s just plain weird.
Facebook recently suggested I friend request two of my daughter’s schoolmates. I quickly deleted these Facebook recommendations because, well, it’s just creepy.
The answer I gave to the “magic age” question is the answer most experts give: It depends.
Every kid is different. Every kid matures differently. So there really is no magic age.
If your kids are telling you they want to be online, first ask them why and what they want to do. For example, my kids want to be YouTube stars. High expectations, sure, but at least we know their motives. For us, their motives seem pure. They want to connect with the world, but in a fun, goofball way. For now, we’re okay with that.
Talk to your kids about privacy and safety. If you don’t know where to start, attend open forums such as the one Tuesday at the MCCTC in Canfield.
For more information, visit sites such as Common Sense Media to learn about the dangers kids face online and how to protect them.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.