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Is My Child Ready for Social Media?

PHOTO: Teen girl on computer. Photo credit: Michiko Yoshifuji.
PHOTO: Teen girl on computer. Photo credit: Michiko Yoshifuji.
August 20, 2012

RICHMOND, Va. - Children and teenagers tweet, post pictures on Facebook and connect through many social media channels - and their parents in Virginia and around the nation seem to accept it.

A new study by Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics finds that 83 percent of parents think the benefits either outweigh or equal the risks, and they also consider that the use of social media contributes in a positive way to their children's future.

For young children, however, child psychologist Dr. Edward Christophersen says parents should think differently.

"Given the mind of an 8-, 10-, 12-, 13-year-old child, the risk/benefit ratio is unfavorable, because they don't understand the possible repercussions of it."

Many of the parents surveyed said children under 13 should not be using social media. Some parents are convinced that it's okay for their children, though, because "all the kids in their class do it." Christophersen says the parents should set the age at which they believe their child is old enough to handle social media responsibly - and even after allowing the child access, parents should monitor texts, tweets and posts.

While he understands peer pressure, Christophersen advises parents to carefully consider their children's level of maturity. If parents need support when setting the rules, he suggests that they get expert advice.

"They should maybe talk to the counselor at school or the religious advisor - something like that - to determine an age below which they're not going to let their child on social media - and then stick with it."

Once a child becomes active on social media, Christophersen says it's important to monitor, monitor, monitor.

"Parents have an obligation to check the child's Facebook page, and they should periodically do a Google search for their child."

More than half of the parents surveyed were concerned about predators, bad language and sexual harassment. However, nearly three-quarters of the parents felt that social-media usage would help prepare their children for success in the changing digital age.

More details of the study are online at childrensmercy.org.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - VA