Our Gracie got her first smartphone when she was ten years old. We wanted to wait, terrified of the creeps and porn and the rest of it. But she needed to contact us for pickup from dance, and that’s how her friends connected. Without a phone, she was left out of plans and private jokes. She was feeling more and more alone, and we worried she was depressed. We caved. We couldn’t take the begging and crying. We tried to do it safely, starting with no social media. We read articles about risks and checked her phone regularly. We insisted she wait until she was 13-year-old for social media. At 12-years-old, we allowed only YouTube and TikTok to start. She’s loved it. Shortly after that, she begged for Instagram. We tried to hold out, but she had some experience with her other apps so we allowed it. We’ve talked to her about safety a lot. She rolls her eyes, but I think she gets it. She’s smart and funny and social. We are confident she’ll be fine. At least we hope so…
And that’s the way it happens for most families. As a screen safety expert, mom, and psychologist, I get it. We all outsource to our phones for memory, entertainment, navigation, design, and communication. When’s the last time you memorized a phone number or planned a trip with a paper map?
We are cyborgs and so are our kids. Digital fluency is part of life and a critical element to education, especially now. Screen restriction until high school may be wise, but it isn’t an option for most families. We survived running around town with our friends unsupervised. Is browsing virtual neighbors on screen much different?
The short answer is . . . it can be. Preventing screen-loving kids from wandering into a dangerous digital neighborhood isn’t always possible, even with the best parental controls set up. We are too busy to constantly supervise, and they are too clever with workarounds.
One step you can’t miss if you think your kids are ready for social media is social media readiness training.
As founder of GetKidsInternetSafe and a licensed psychologist who treats digital injury (psychological harm resulting from internet use), I know that learning judgment and achieving resilience happens with practice. Kids don’t know online safety strategies innately, they need to be taught.
Like driving a car without driver’s education and supervised practice, browsing the internet can cause significant injury. The stats about skyrocketing mood and anxiety disorders among kids reflect that. Also like driving, kids on the internet can wander into any kind of digital neighborhood interacting with any type of stranger.
Most of the places they visit are cool, with fun friends, creativity, and harmless excitement. But there are also digital neighborhoods that kids visit that would horrify us. Dangerous people like predators and traffickers may be common there and so can intensely violent and explicit sexual content.
Yes, we could just keep them off screens and avoid the issue altogether. Yet, also like owning a car, the internet offers us to access learning opportunities that help us thrive. Despite the risk of accidents, we drive so as not to miss out on amazing discovery, learning, socialization, and that great job. Our kids feel the same way about their screen devices.
If allowed to browse with little training, more accidents seem certain. That is why my private practice is flourishing. Further, treatment doesn’t erase trauma. It helps with coping; but once a child experiences danger on the internet, that memory never goes away. Prevention before the need for treatment makes sense.
What must be included in social media readiness training?
To be effective, the social media readiness course must have several features similar to driver’s training courses, such as:
- lots of science-based facts and information about online risk and screen use,
- expert strategies and techniques to optimize psychological health and judgment,
- realistic exercises that illustrate typical online scenarios so parents can help coach sensible resolutions,
- trigger topics to encourage smart parent-child discussions to strengthen a healthy parent-child alliance,
- accountability quizzes so you know they are actually learning as they go, and
- opportunity for your child to practice independently without parental supervision (although course access for parents who want to take it first or along with them is optimal).
What do you think? Does browsing the vast internet pose risk for tweens and teens? Do prevention measures make sense rather than relying on treatment only? Is it time that parents require kids to demonstrate problem-solving mastery before allowing them access to popular social media platforms like TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat?
If you are interested in hearing more, visit https://getkidsinternetsafe.com/social-media-readiness-course/.
I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty