Your kids will step into the uncharted waters of social media at some point. How do you teach them to swim between the flags?

Creating a social media account for your child won’t put them at risk of becoming a self-proclaimed ‘influencer’, or an online food critic whose blog is exclusively about your cooking. But there are real risks that are important to be aware of, and it’s important to walk alongside your child as they take their first steps into the social media sea.

Sometimes on social media, there will be sharks in the water. Your child can connect with anyone and anyone can connect with them.

There will likely be videos, opinions, and language that you find inappropriate. They might even be roasted in the comments section for using ‘their’ instead of ‘there’.

Letting them have their own social media account is about giving them control of their own online presence. This is essential that they’ll need to learn to navigate at some point in their life. But just like swimming, you can throw kids in the deep end too early and you don’t want to dive in after them to do social CPR. It’s important to figure out what will work for them and your family.

Don’t take the plunge too soon

There are a few reasons why being too early can leave kids out of their depth –

  • Once they have their own social media presence, they have it forever
  • The world really is more simple when you don’t have to manage your reputation and social interactions online as well as offline
  • Likes, notifications, messages, and friend requests can release a powerful cocktail of feel-good chemicals into the brain, and social media can become addictive
  • Other parents might be angry that their kids are now asking to be on Instagram because your kid is

Don’t make them sit on the sand too long

What we all know about adolescents is that if they’re the ‘last ones’ or they’re ‘never’ allowed to take part in what everyone else seems to be doing, they’ll find ways of doing it anyway. This leaves you unable to help them navigate it well.

To keep them between the flags, you need to know they’re swimming.

If the time has come (usually somewhere between 10 and 13 years old), then what wisdom will they need to stay between the flags?

Prepare them for the basics of social media

When teaching someone to swim, you start with floaties. The social media equivalent is a basic platform where you co-create a social media account for the family pet or a plant. It can be a fun and safe introduction to the world of newsfeeds, stories and direct messages. They’ll get to pick a cool original username like @RightAboutMeow and enjoy scrolling and posting pictures with your guidance. Learning the basics of how to add friends, block users, report posts, and knowing when to use their/they’re/there, is essential to being a social media swimmer.

Start with one platform

Let them grow confident swimming in the shallows before you let them go deeper into the sea. It’s overwhelming to manage the notifications coming from Facebook, Messenger, Snapchat, and Instagram all at once. And that’s as an adult. Keep it simple when they are first starting out.

Here are some of the flags you can put in place for your child to swim between –

  • Only using one app (maybe Facebook or Instagram)
  • Blocking out a specific time of day for them to use social media
  • Only using one account

If you had to swim all day every day, you’d get tired and cold. That’s why all good things need some restrictions, and that includes social media.

Check out Safe Surfer for more ideas on how to technologically manage these boundaries.

Be a good swimmer yourself

There are three ways to teach your kids- first by example, second by example and third by example. The best way to teach your kids how to use social media is to use social media well yourself.

This article is part of a paid partnership between Parenting Place and Safe Surfer.