Coming up with rules for kids on social media is hard. First, coming up with any set of rules for kids is hard as any parent can attest. But when you’re talking about a complicated subject like social media it can be even trickier. There are very real risks of kids not realizing what’s appropriate or not on social media or not realizing who can see their content. There are also scary but not true stories about predators seeking kids on social media or other online boogeymen that even if we rationally don’t believe we also don’t want to be the one parent whose child actually faced the monster.
Even though I work in the social media space I hadn’t given the topic of social media rules for kids much thought until a co-worker (hat tip to Gretchen) asked me about it this week. My boys are too young for any social media platforms and still young enough that their friends aren’t pressuring them to join. But I know that will change and it will change faster than I want it too. And while it may be a simple rule to say “No social media until you’re [AGE]!” I also know that social media is as much a part of young culture as it is adult culture. Banning something isn’t as effective as teaching them the right way to do it.
But for young kids first experiencing social media it’s a huge topic to cover. In some ways I compare it to driving a car–it’s a tool that everyone uses and it’s important to learn how to use it properly because bad things can happen if you mess around. But in other ways this is a bad comparison–when a teenager learns to drive they’ve been sitting in a car as a passenger for many, many years. Children first going online typically haven’t been a backseat passenger to their parents’ online activities so we have to teach them the rules of a road they’ve never been on.
This topic prompted me to post some initial rules for kids on social media which I invited comments on and then revised. I share them here because it was a good conversation but let me make a few important call-outs.
- As with any set of rules for kids, these are completely customizable for your family and your children. I am not saying this is the right way to do it, this is just one way to start thinking about it.
- The rules are written a bit strongly but that’s because social media is similar to a car that weighs several tons–use it correctly and you’re good. One bad accident can have serious consequences. I’m not trying to scare people, I’ve just worked long enough in the space to know better. I imagine ambulance drivers and emergency room workers have similar conversations with their kids about driving motorcycles.
- These are basic rules that I want to apply to all platforms but also to trigger a series of conversations about how to use social media. That’s the basis of rule five. Nobody should think you can give these rules to a child and then they know what to do–this is the foundation for you to teach them about posting appropriate content, providing appropriate responses, and engaging with people they do or do not know in real life. This is the start of the conversation, not the end or the totality.
That said, here are the Eight Rules. If you have additions, please leave me a comment below.
- This is not your account, this is my account with your name on it.
- I will set the password and you will not change it. If the platform requires you to change it then you will come to me and I will change it for you.
- I will be monitoring your account. Don’t post or say anything that you don’t want me to see because I will see it. If you’d like something more private I’m happy to buy you a diary and a pen.
- When I say I will be monitoring your account I mean that I will be actively watching your account and so will many other people. All of these people, like me, have your best interest in mind when we stop you from doing unwise things.
- I understand you’ll be learning how to use social media and that the learning process is a journey so I will be patient and explain the things you should and shouldn’t do. You, in turn, need to understand that there are risks and concerns you can’t comprehend right now so while some of my advice may seem odd you will still need to follow it.
- If you ever have a question about posting something, ask me first. Social media is about conversations but it is also very different from the actual conversations you’ve had with family and friends. It takes time to learn but it’s better to ask first than regret later.
- I will warn you once before I remove your access to the account. Unless you do something really awful in which case you won’t get a warning. Trying to circumvent these rules (making another account, deleting accounts, etc.) is automatically awful.
- If you think these rules are strict just wait until we talk about driving when you’re 16.