Tag Archives: pre-teens

Your kid wants an Instagram account? What parents need to know

Example of teen Instagram“Mom, can I have an Instagram account?”

Until very recently, Facebook was the first social media account sought by elementary school-aged kids aware that connecting with their friends on something more sophisticated than Moshi Monsters was a sign of teenage sophistication. This is despite the fact that Facebook guidelines state it is only for users aged 13 and over (any kid that can subtract 13 from the current year and tick off a box can get around this). And although Facebook is still very much alive and well with tweens and teens, the grandaddy of social media has tracked a decrease among its youngest users, with a significant number of kids as young as seven are turning to Instagram, Whatsapp, Kik and Snapchat for their first “grown-up” accounts.

Instagram is a picture-sharing social network, where users set up their own accounts, share images with followers, edit the images with different filters and digital effects, and share, like or comment on each other’s images. Instagram has enjoyed the popularity of the “selfie” (images you take yourself, usually with a smartphone or tablet device), and users enjoy how easy it to share pictures and video with a comment or two, mention other users so they get notified, indicate where the image was taken, and include hashtags (search terms preceded by a #).

Parents with children as young as seven or eight are fielding requests for Instagram accounts, as many first and second-graders have access to wifi-enabled smartphones, iTouches and tablets. It’s never been so easy for so many kids to be so connected. And while there is nothing inherently bad about a social media network like Instagram, it does open up a Pandora’s Box of concerns about letting kids on the Internet.

If your school-aged child is asking you for an Instagram account, here are some of the things you need to know:

-1- Instagram’s terms of use state that the minimum age for users is 13. For many parents, this ends the conversation. You can tell your kids that this is the rule and that’s that. There are good reasons for this rule, including safety, security, privacy and experience required to exercise good judgement. Click on the above link and look over the Terms of Use with your kid.

-2- You can’t unring the bell. All kids online are prone to stumbling across images of sex, violence and other kinds of mature content. You can install kid-safe search filters or search engines (like Google’s Kidzsearch or SafeSearchKids), but even preschoolers recognize the entertainment value of searching for YouTube videos (YouTube is second to Google as the world’s most popular search engine). Kids quickly recognize the appeal of scrolling through Instagram feeds, and may stumble across images they won’t be able to unsee.

You know your kid and your context better than anyone. You need to decide what s/he is capable of handling, how comfortable they will be talking to you about what they see, how much supervision you can offer. This is true not only for Instagram but all of their activities online.

Edit your profile Instagram-3- Keep personal info off the profile bio. They shouldn’t include their family names (even in their usernames), where they live, the name of their school or even how old they are. This image shows you exactly how to edit your profile (you can also click on the Edt. You want to make sure that a Google search of their name doesn’t turn up their account, for reasons of privacy and security.

-4- Help them set up their accounts. Even if you have no clue how to do so. Use Google like a giant user manual, search for answers to questions like “how do I configure privacy settings on my Instagram account?” Figuring this out together models for them the process of establishing safe settings, thinking about privacy and more. Soon enough they will be setting up their own accounts for different things without you, so it’s important to go through the paces and have these conversations when they start to go online.

Instagram privacy settings-5- Set their accounts so their photos and videos are private. This means only those who follow your child can see their images, and their accounts are not public. When an account is set to private, they will get a notification any time someone wants to follow them. They can choose whether to approve it or not. The image to the right shows what you need to click on to set this properly.

Understand there will be some pushback here. For many kids (and adults), social media is about the number of followers they can get, the number of likes they can tally for their images. Some kids promise in their profile descriptions that they will always follow back. Apps like Followers+ help them track and increase those numbers. It’s essentially a popularity contest, and many kids get very caught up in those numbers.

-6- Show them how to review tags. Your child should review when a friend tags them in a picture or description
(they will get a notification from Instagram). If they don’t like the picture or what is being said, they need to contact that friend to ask them to remove the tag and/or take the picture down. Every user needs to learn how to monitor mentions and images of themselves online. Instagram notifications

-7- Regularly review your child’s list of followers with them, and block any strangers who may have been inadvertently approved. Kids are very trusting of superficial identification. They don’t know that the person claiming to be a 13-year-old girl may be a middle-aged man, or that someone easily pass themselves off as a friend when they are not.

-8- Help them think critically about the images they post online. Start off by insisting that they can not post pictures of themselves without your permission. We started off with no pictures of themselves at all, then gradually progressed to one or two pictures that met with my approval. There are plenty of silly, harmless jokes, images of celebrities, sports figures and adorable puppies they can share.

9- Tell them they can not post pictures of friends without their approval (and their parents’ permission). Not everyone is allowed to have pictures of themselves on the Internet. They need to get used to asking permission before snapping pictures and posting them online. And not everyone may be pleased that you posted a picture of them looking silly, or less than attractive. Having an Instagram account means respecting others’ right to their own images. This is a conversation you need to have with them over and over again.

-10- Create your own Instagram and follow your kid. As your child to help you come up with a user name and profile description. Even if you have zero interest in having your own account, it’s important to have some idea what interests your kids.

Kids also love Instagram Direct – the private direct messaging service that allows them to interact with strangers and unapproved followers. Click here to read what parents should know about this option.

 

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Making the most of the waning days of summer (or lessons learned from The Breakfast Club)

The back-to-school countdown in our house starts about two weeks before the first day of school.

This is roughly when the schools send out their information about class lists, hot lunch programs and school supplies. It’s usually a week or two after our annual mid-summer camping trip, and once we’ve finished washing, folding and putting away all those items, my mind begins to drift forward to the next set of looming responsibilities.

We try very, very hard not to let the impending start of school ruin the last bit of summer, but it can be hard. Our main strategy is to plan some really fun, special activities with friends, like amusement parks or waterslides. Trips to the farmer’s market. Dinner in Chinatown. Also some sleeping in, lazing around in pyjamas and swimming in the lake after dark.

Now that my older girls are preteens, I also make a real effort to get in some one-on-one time with them. When you have more than one child, it’s so easy to group them into neat categories. I often pair the twins together, because they are so easy-going and can seem very similar in their likes and dislikes. But they have very distinct personalities despite their identical genetic profiles, and really need to have that uniqueness validated. And my youngest assumes the role of the family fireball, grabbing the spotlight and thriving in it, but she is also so much more than that, and has different relationships with each of her sisters.

When you’re parenting, the easy thing isn’t always the right thing. We need to see past the labels, the thumbnail summaries, the established patterns.

This week I’ve taken advantage of the August downtime to host an 80’s teen film festival with a couple of their friends. First they watched Sixteen Candles, then The Breakfast Club. Since they are so enthusiastic, I’ve got Say Anything for tonight (“Mom, why is he holding that huge box radio over his head?” Try and explain ghetto blasters to the iPod generation!).

The reason I’m mentioning this is that I was once again by struck by that resonant line of narration from The Breakfast Club, “We think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us. In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.”

The lovely twist to that film, of course, was that the characters (the jock, the brain, the criminal, the princess, the basket case) come to realize they saw themselves and each other that way as well, exactly like the adults who just don’t get it. In that one magic day of detention, they learn that they each have a bit of each other in themselves.

People are complicated. Multifaceted. It may not seem like rocket science, but this is one of the bigger revelations of growing up and it’s a familiar theme in young adult fiction of all kinds.

Seeing this movie again made me think about how hard we need to try to see beyond the labels. Especially in preteens and teens who are growing and changing every day, who struggle to see themselves as simultaneously similar to everyone else and unique individuals. We need to give them room to surprise us, to defy expectations, to be anomalies, contradictions. To try on different hats.

In these stories (and many other kinds of YA fiction), adults are generally depicted as one-dimensional, disconnected characters, incapable of comprehending the angst and emotional turmoil of the teens around them. They are stuck in their own adult funks, driven by their own agendas and the teens need to figure everything out on their own. Makes me think of incoherent voices of all the grown-ups in the Charlie Brown cartoons. I understand how this is a convenient plot device, and I also get why this disconnect would resonate with teens, but I see it as a challenge to go beyond. We need to work very hard to maintain that dialogue with our kids. Leave our agendas aside as much as possible. Listen instead of lecturing.

So in the last few days of summer, I’m going to spend as much time as possible with each of my three girls one-on-one, letting them pick the activities and drive the conversation. As they head off to start their own high school memories with friends they haven’t yet met, I’m going to challenge myself — and them — to look beyond the surface and let them talk about whatever crosses their minds.

As challenges go, this one is also a privilege. I’m really looking forward to it.

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How much privacy does your kid give up in 1 hour?

This fabulous article from Common Sense Media (one of my favourite non-profit sites for frank reviews of movies, TV shows, books and music for kids and teens) tracks one woman’s efforts to figure out what information is given away when her 12-year-old daughter plays and does homework online.

Christina Tynan-Wood writes about her decision to allow her pre-teen to have an account on Facebook, despite that site’s policy of only allowing those 13 and over to legally open an account. She isn’t alone – it’s an issue I’ve struggled with as well. Like Tynan-Wood, I felt that saying no to Facebook had a social impact for my twin daughters. And as I discuss in this article, allowing them on the social media website with strict rules and supervision meant I could help them make sense of it while they were young enough to still listen to their mom.  According to Consumer Reports, 7.5 million Facebook users are under 13.

One practical impact of the parental decision to allow our kids on Facebook is the massive amount of information these (and other) sites are able to collect about their activities online.

It’s the social networking sites, though, that give me the most pause. It might not seem like a big deal: She installs a silly app, plays a game, “LOLs” on photos, posts a picture, announces what she’s doing, creates a fake job, and “marries” her classroom crush. She’s having a blast.

But the apps aren’t really free. She often “pays” for them by allowing access to her — and sometimes her friends’ — profiles. Add this to the information that she and her friends willingly provide, even the fact that they’re friends, and collect it all into a dossier, and you’d have quite a portrait of my little girl and her crew. The companies that collect this data claim that they never connect this information to individuals, and Facebook prohibits app makers from transmitting data to outside companies — but large breaches have happened.

And what happens when my baby isn’t a baby anymore? Will “the machine” have created a detailed analysis by then of what sort of employee, insurance risk, or student she’ll be? Will it understand that she was playing around when she claimed to work at IHOP? Will it know that the girls didn’t understand what it meant when they called each other prostitutes? Will it strip these games of context, feed it to a database as fact, and sell it to credit companies, insurance agencies, employers, colleges, marketing firms, or the highest bidder? That sounds paranoid. But there have been so many mistakes, break-ins, breaches, and accidents in the world of data collection that the CEO of Sony recently announced publicly that he can’t guarantee the security of Sony’s video game network or any other Web system in the “bad new world” of cybercrime.

These are really important questions. We tend to be kind of laid-back about it because we can’t really see it happening on the surface, but the sheer amount of information collected about our kids is staggering. How will this affect them when they are 25? 40? The answer is we don’t really know. But clearly crossing our fingers and hoping for the best isn’t the best reaction.

The first response is awareness, among both parents and their kids. The second is education. How can we fine tune our security settings and firewalls? What kinds of information should never be given out online? How can we stay on top of the information about us and our children that is out there on the web? These are important questions to have with your kids from the time they are old enough to open their first Club Penguin or Moshi Monsters account. These are some of the questions I’ll be looking at in depth in future posts, and I welcome any comments or suggestions from readers.

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