With the tragic story of Megan Russell that has hit the media recently after an interview from the BBC, where it is claimed by Megan’s father than Instagram helped kill his daughter, I believe this raises a poignant point which is;
When is YOUR child ready to enter into the world of social media?
There are so many things to consider as a parent or guardian when letting your child enter the relentless world of social media and I believe that there is always a time that your child needs to be allows into that world. The problem we all face with this decision is, what age feels best for us.
The first hurdle to overcome is the Policy set by almost every mainstream social media app and website, that those people 13 years old and above may use their services.
This in the child’s mind is a target that if they don’t have access by the age of 13, they should be allowed access on their birthday.
Before even considering allowing access, I am strongly of the belief that if you as a parent do not know what Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook look like, how can you know if they are ready to enter their world.
"But everyone is on Instagram, Mum"
Many children access these services well before their 13th birthday and it’s easy, you simply add a few years onto your date of birth and you can create an account, there is no way to verify the users age.
The main solution to this is to have an open conversation with your child around what they like to do on the internet, you’ll no doubt hear “but everyone is on Instagram” but trust me, that’s only true in their mind, there are plenty of parents holding out just like you might be. There is no doubt some of their friends are, but not the whole class or the whole year group.
Once you’ve had this conversation you will quickly learn whether they even have a desire to join the social media ranks or whether they’re just not fussed, if they want to join and you feel they might be ready, it’s time to talk boundaries.
I will be doing another blog specifically around boundaries, with some tried and tested ideas from other parents for you to attempt in your home. This is never a one size fits all situation.
Another consideration is the chemical Dopamine, the chemical released into our brain during certain activities. We all get a hit of dopamine when we receive a notification, a message or something else from our smartphones. It’s a feel-good chemical that keeps up coming back for more.
The draw back to dopamine is that it is the same chemical that we get from Smoking, Alcohol and gambling, meaning this is an extremely addictive chemical that can alter and dominate how our lives work.
The reason I am explaining this is, most dopamine inducing substances or materials have an age restriction, normally 18 in the UK. But through Social Media there is effectively no age restriction to the access of this chemical and it’s been scientifically proven that the side effects of dopamine in young people are primarily negative and are linked to a rise in depression and anxiety rates in the upcoming generations.
I’m no scientist but when I think about when I want my children accessing social media, this really makes me think long and hard into whether 13 is still too young for their growing minds. I can imagine this makes other parents feel the same.
"I miss out on everything because I'm not on it..."
The last consideration is opposite to all else I’ve spoken about, social isolation. The one main risk for your child as they get to 14, then 1
5 and if you’ve been really ‘hardball’, 16. If teens aren’t on social media, they genuinely miss out on what their peers are doing and saying, this means they are left out of conversations in the classroom and I’ve spoken to many pupils now who are no longer invited to parties because their friends see their lack of social media as a barrier in their friendship. What shocking times we live in, I say. But this is a real problem for teenagers and one that cannot be brushed under the carpet. It is vitally important to have regular chats with your teen around this subject as there will come a time where they’re just so isolated that you can’t help but allow them to be involved. This doesn’t make you a bad parent, you don’t want to see your teen get bullied because you don’t let them do something, that’s all natural.