Fri | Mar 23, 2018

Social media and your child

Published:Sunday | July 9, 2017 | 12:00 AMJody-Anne Lawrence

With the advent of social media, everyone has got into the game. Including children. But should this be a space for your tiny tots? And what are the guidelines for your children to be introduced and operate on social media?

Hillary Evelyn-Birch, the mother of a now nine-year-old, told Outlook that she created a Facebook page for her son when he was an infant. It was never to showcase her bundle of joy to the world, but rather to family and friends near and far to keep them up to date with her bundle of joy.

"It was an easy way to just keep everyone up to date, and my page had already been bombarded with individuals that were associated and not quite yet friends and not family. So I was not quite comfortable sharing everything about him on my page," she told Outlook.

Her son knows the page exists, but Evelyn-Birth is not ready to hand it over to him fully, and may not be ready to anytime soon.




Evelyn-Birch is aware of the predators on the Internet, and she is not ready to expose her son to that. His social media curiosity is being piqued as she allows him to watch age-appropriate videos on YouTube, and he is becoming more curious and asking about his own channel. But she has refused, and has explained to him why.

"I do not just tell him no, I tell him why and that he is not ready for it. I explain predators to him, as well as cyber-bullying and even phishing, but I break it down so that he can understand and he does," she told Outlook.

She explained that sometimes the problem is actually the fact that parents say no without explaining why which builds the child's curiosity. They are going to learn about these things anyway, and she believes that it is best for the parent to introduce it in an appropriate way. This factor is something that Associate Clinical Psychologist Justine East believes is important.

East believes that a parent cannot avoid their child getting involved in social media. Once they start hearing about it, they will be curious, so it is best for them to start the discussion about it first, so that the child has the correct understanding. This way, you can even be the one to introduce your child to social media, and you will be able to communicate about it before they take the plunge.

There is no set age for introducing one's child to social media. Both East and Evelyn-Birch agree, however, that parents should delay it as long as possible. East believes that parents should allow their child to develop their social skills and physical interpersonal relationships prior to. Evelyn-Birch believes that she still needs to maintain a bit of control of the child's social-media activity - not snooping on him, but rather to know what people are sharing with him.

"I would like to wait until he is a teenager. When I know he has the understanding," she told Outlook. She added that this would not be until he is a teenager, unless Facebook could give her some comfort that she could monitor his account.

"With Google, you can link your accounts to it and once a post goes out, you are notified as to what it is. I would need this comfort if I am going to let him go on at 13. But otherwise, I will hand over the Facebook and, every now and again, have him share with me what he posts. I want to have a relationship that he tells me everything. I will never snoop behind his back, but I need an open discussion at all times," she admitted.




However, there are other factors that parents should consider when exposing their child to social media. East spoke of a study done by the University of Birmingham, that concluded that due to the wide influx of culture, languages, music, and videos that children are exposed to on social media, this will eventually impact their behaviour and values. She pointed to another study by research psychologist and educator Dr Larry Rosen in 2011, that noted that overexposure can actually impact a child's physical health and make them prone to depression when they become teenagers.

Being proactive and vigilant is all a parent can truly do. Evelyn-Birch has already created a Gmail account for her son, even though she has not presented it to him as yet, and doesn't plan to for a few years.

"This will avoid the baby this and the bad boy that, as email addresses that he would eventually have to change when he eventually needs to put an email on his rÈsumÈ," the proactive mother told Outlook.

She and East believe that there must be a talk between parents and their children. If there is not, then children are left to learn on their own and that is how mistakes and dangerous situations arise.

Next week, we will examine and outline how to introduce your child to social media.