By KYLIE LADD
Recently, my daughter’s primary school held a cyber-safety session aimed at grades three to six. The children were taken into the school hall and introduced to the visiting expert, a middle-aged woman who immediately asked those who used any form of social media to stand up while the rest remained seated on the floor.
My 11-year-old daughter, Cameron, dutifully did so – she has an Instagram account which she thoroughly enjoys, and occasionally also uses Kik to send messages.
I wasn’t there- no parent was- but when I heard what happened next I dearly wished I had been.
Cam and quite a few of her friends were told that what they were doing was wrong, that they were too young to have access to social media, and that their parents (and here I quote one of Cam’s classmates) “needed help with their parenting” because they must be doing a bad job.
Expert-lady should have been grateful I wasn’t there to hear that, because I would have blown my top.
I absolutely agree that it’s important to be teaching pre-teens cyber-safety skills, and I also agree that unrestricted, unmonitored access to social media is a bad idea for kids who aren’t that far past having learned to tie their shoelaces. What I don’t agree with, however, is that it should be banned altogether until the magic age of 13, when the keys to the kingdom (or Facebook at least) are handed over.
Cameron first expressed an interest in Instagram at the age of 10 and three-quarters after returning from a week at pony camp and having seen some of the girls there using it. She wanted to keep in touch with them for the next time she went on camp, she wanted to see the pictures they posted of their own horses and the trail rides.
I vacillated for a bit before I said ‘yes’. On the one hand, I did worry that she was too young- she was certainly well below the minimum age of 13 specified by Instagram- but on the other a part of me realised there was no escaping it forever. (I would like to point out at this point that she also asked me for a pony after that camp and I said ‘no’. I’m not a complete pushover.)
Strangely enough, what swayed me was my 13-year-old son’s Facebook account. At that time he’d been on Facebook for about three months, though my husband and I had imposed a few conditions before he signed up.
1. I had to have his password and could check his activity anytime.
2. He was only allowed to ‘friend’ people he actually knew and had met in the flesh, no posting anything that he would be ashamed for us to see.
The rules had worked well, but of course I couldn’t control what his own friends posted or what ended up in his stream. The thing that had struck me within my first few days of logging into his account was how few girls wore clothes. There, scattered liberally amongst the crude jokes and the YouTube clips, was photo after photo of his 13 year old female peers in tiny bikinis and low-cut or barely-there tops, all leaning provocatively towards the camera, most asking for ‘likes’.