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"The 'experts' can take a backseat. My 11 y/o's on social media and I'm fine with that."

Kylie Ladd.

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.

Are your kids on social media?

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’.

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My son goes to a “good” school in a relatively affluent suburb. I knew a number of the girls I saw in the pictures, and they were invariably great kids – academic, sporty, musical, engaged with their school and community.

But maybe that was the problem? They were still kids.

Kylie’s new book ‘Mothers and Daughters’ has recently been released. (Details on where to buy at the bottom of the post)

My daughter will be going to secondary school next year. Rather than risk having her publishing her own bikini shots, I suppose I could ban Facebook and other social media, but I don’t think that’s realistic. She will have her own school-supplied laptop and access all day to the school’s wifi network- there’s no way I can possibly police that.

So, what can I do? While she’s still young enough to listen to me and under my direct supervision, I can teach her how to use social media responsibly and thoughtfully, before the hormones or that first sweet taste of high-school autonomy have swamped her judgement.

And so we said yes to Instagram, and later Kik, with the same caveats as my son had been given, but with a few added in.

1 She was only to use social media at home, on one of our family computers (which are in a public place and not wifi enabled, so there’s no sneaking them off to bedrooms).

2. Her time on such sites would be limited and monitored.

3. She was only to ‘friend’ people after clearing it with me.

So far, it’s working.

She uses Instagram to drool over pony pics and Hunger Games screenshots or to talk to both school friends and girls she has met at swim meets or on camp. She used Kik recently to chat with and console her best friend, who had gone interstate for the funeral of her much-loved aunt. She’s a social girl in an increasingly socially connected world, and she doesn’t want to miss out on anything by losing her access, so she plays by the rules.

Maybe we’ve just been lucky, but I don’t think it’s that simple.

No-one would let a teenager drive their car without a number of lessons first, right? And so I’m doing the same with this: lessons, a probationary period where I’m sitting in the passenger seat next to her checking that she is indicating correctly, using her mirrors, looking ahead and always, always monitoring the situation.

Yes, it’s time consuming and often boring, just like driving lessons, but her safety and her future are at stake- just like driving lessons. I still check on my son, too, who is 14 now. I’ve had other parents tell me that I shouldn’t, that I’m not respecting his privacy – but Facebook isn’t private, and the sooner he truly understands that, the better.

Social media is fun, and it’s part of their world. I’m happy that my 11 year old is learning to negotiate it, with me alongside her. The so-called expert can take a backseat.

Are your kids on social media? What age did they join? 

Kylie is a novelist, freelance writer and neuropsychologist. Kylie’s previous novels are After The Fall, Last Summer and Into My Arms, and her latest novel, Mothers and Daughters has just been published. You can purchase these on Booktopia here.

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