According to a poll from C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital taken in the first half of 2021, about half of parents with kids ages 10 to 12 and 32% of parents with kids ages 7 to 9 reported that their children used social media apps. It shows that while most social media platforms are officially meant for kids 13+, most children start signing up when they’re much younger. It’s understandable: the majority of Americans use YouTube and Facebook (81% and 69% respectively), and other popular social media platforms have millions of active users. It only makes sense that kids want to go where most people are hanging out online.

Yet for many parents, their child getting a social media account is a scary prospect. They know that the experience isn’t always a great one: social media is full of sketchy people, insensitive comments, inappropriate content, and serious privacy issues, which some kids just might not be ready for. But it’s likely something you’ll have to deal with eventually, so you should be prepared to have a conversation with your children about social media sooner rather than later.

Help Them Get Started

As with all conversations surrounding the internet and online safety, it is important to start early. As soon as your child wants to start a Facebook account or join any other social media platform, talk with them about it, covering both the good and the bad. Not only should you go over good online safety habits, but also the specifics of how the platform itself works to make sure that they are using it properly.

If they don’t already have an account, consider helping them set it up. Not only do many websites require a parent’s permission for younger users to join but assisting them during the account creation process also allows you to nudge them in the right direction in terms of avoiding oversharing. People (not just children) often put lots of personal information in their Facebook profiles without considering who can see it, so remind them of the value of online privacy and what information is or isn’t okay to share.

Along with encouraging smart and safe behavior online, you should teach them what tools are available to protect themselves as well. Every social media platform has privacy settings of some kind, so make sure that your children know where they are and how to use them. In particular, they will need to know how and when to report or block inappropriate comments or content. Also, be sure that they know how to limit who can communicate with them. Many platforms allow you to limit access to your account, only allowing followers to see it in full.

Encourage a Healthy Relationship With Social Media

When it comes down to it, the internet in itself is not a bad thing, but it is something that you need to step away from sometimes. You should help your child to understand that they shouldn’t feel the need to be available all the time on social media and that everyone needs time to unplug and get away from the chatter. It’s okay to take a break (in fact it is VITAL to take them) and you don’t need to take part in every conversation. That feeling of always being connected and that things are constantly moving can be a source of stress, so it is good to set boundaries and encourage separation of online and offline life.

Speaking of offline, the most valuable lesson that you can teach someone about social media is to know when to log off. Sometimes you’ll find a comment that’s so frustrating or downright offensive that you feel the need to respond. This can lead to anger and needless conflict, which depending on who you’re talking to and what the conversation is about, could easily result in problems that can follow them offline. Remind them to never post while angry and that everything that they post online can have potential repercussions.

Connecting With Others, Protecting Yourself

Social media can be a great help to kids, keeping them connected with friends and family while allowing them to explore their interests and share ideas. But it can be a hub for cyberbullying and other harmful online activities too. By confronting this reality and offering guidance and support, you can show them that your child that you trust them to handle this more mature part of the internet, while also providing the guidance and support needed to stay safe.