Social media is like riding a bike—just make sure you give your child a helmet, knee pads, training wheels, and a whole lot of instruction.
I’ve researched the dangers of social media, including conducting a study on recruitment into sex trafficking through social media. Yes, social media can be very dangerous—particularly with little supervision. So, most are surprised when I allow my children, at age 10 and 11 to use social media instead of waiting for the more accepted age of 13. Before getting all judgy, hear me out.
When the magic age of 13 hits, there is a lot that is going on with your child. Developmentally this is the age when children seek independence, crave having their own space, rely on friendships over family, value privacy and may even dabble in rebellious behaviors. This happens whether we want it or not—they are hardwired for this—it is part of their natural development.
If social media is introduced during this time, parents may have a hard time monitoring, exploring together and many children will attempt to push boundaries. In contrast, my 10 and 11-year-old still find me tolerable, and even (dare I say), cool on some days. They still feel close to the family, eagerly share about their school days, and have a healthy fear of the world. I know that in a couple of short years, that could all change and I may miss my opportunity to lay down some critical groundwork in their ability to safely navigate social media.
So, to their surprise and excitement, we embarked on the ride of social media together—equipped with training wheels, knee pads, a helmet, and strict instructions on where and when to ride the bike. We started off slow, I instructed them along the way, I was there to caution them, I let them have some independence, we processed any mistakes they made, they were aware of the dangers and trusted me to guide them. We also have a lot of fun—I have my own Tik Tok account, we watch together, I try to dance, they are embarrassed by my comments, I learn about their friends, and I have valuable insight into their life. They also know the stakes—any purposeful wrong move and the bike goes in storage.
I know that by the time they are 13, when I ever so slowly let my hand off the back of the bike seat, they are equipped with the knowledge to steer independently. While I will always make them wear the helmets of parental control, time limits, and privacy settings, I will take off the training wheels and knee pads and trust that the practice we have had will keep them safe.
So, if you get a disapproving glance or are questioned “Your kids are on Tik Tok?” just say “Sure, it’s just like riding a bike.”