What apps should I let my kids download?
School is out today. Not for snow, not for a holiday, not for beloved spring, fall, or summer break, but for sickness. The flu has splattered it’s way into homes and hallways, churches and classrooms, fields and friends. It hit us too.
As I lay in bed, wishing my door was locked, my kids were quiet, my head would simmer, I perused the steadfast Facebook and occasioned the flitting images of Instagram. If I found a good quote or scripture that hit home, I might even tweet it out.
I’m not a diehard social media fan. I’m not even a mediocre stalker of diehard FB fans. I’m probably in the lower tier of users who mainly get online to post something work related or to check the authenticity meter between reality and fantasy world of some of the many teenagers we love. How are they doing? It it real? Should we worry?
A few thoughts on teens, tween, and those kids who desperately want to be older:
Our children do not communicate the same way we did when we were kids.
They do not communicate even the same way other kids did five years ago.
They prefer to text than talk.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just a thing. It’s where they are. It’s the culture they live in. As adults, we can either embrace it and love them in it, or refrain from it and shut them out.
I would encourage parents to embrace it, teach them appropriate social media etiquette, protect them as best you can, and give them the tools they need to make it in this crazy world.
The minimum age to open an account in Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Kik, and Snapchat is 13 years old. In Vine and YouTube, it’s 18. (YouTube allows children to open one under a parent’s account). These rules are in place for your child’s legal protection. (COPPA, Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) But I know plenty of kids under 13 who have Facebook pages, Pinterest accounts, and are very active on Instagram. Our 12 year old daughter has been pleading with us to let her get Instagram, and we are considering it.
These are the rules that we have established in our home for our kids, currently age 8, 10, 12, and 14. I don’t judge those parents who have different rules, these are just the ones that work for us right now. Several parents have asked, so here it is:
Age 12, you can have a phone. Help us pay for it.
Age 12, maybe you can have an Instagram account. Depends on why you want it.
Age 13, you can have Twitter and Instagram if used appropriately. Do you REALLY want Facebook? If so, fine.
RULES for Instagram and other Social Media:
- Selfies are for faces
- No kissy faces - (no duck face)
- No sticking your tongue out
- Your accounts must be Private
RULES for phones and devices:
- No electronics at the dinner table (when we do actually sit down). This goes for my husband and I as well, and the kids call us out more then them!
- No electronics after 9:00 pm (this will go up as our kids get older, but honestly, what good thing happens after midnight?)
What about other Social Media Platforms?
Instagram - keep it private
Facebook - keep it private
Vine - no, absolutely not[this is a 6 second video creation app. I asked my 14 year old about it and he said most of it is cursing. In case you want to see, here is a snippet of the latest Vine Videos] http://www.vpeeker.com
Tumblr - iffy (This is a micro-blogging platform. Beware if your kid is depressed, has the tendency to lean towards darkness, eating disorders, or other harmful situations)
SnapChat - no. Please no. I know there were original scares that have sense subsided about pornography on this site. We do not allow SnapChat on our devices nor encourage SnapChat for our young friends. It’s too easy to get into bad situations with SnapChat.
Twitter - ok (just follow them)
Pinterest - ok (keep an eye on their boards, also a scary place for eating disorders)
Whisper - no (this is a site where you post anonymously and receive anonymous messages. You can go to the homepage and see for yourself http://whisper.sh)
Kik - no (instant messenger system for smartphones, and has become a popular place for texting) you can use your phone to text whomever you have as a contact
Pheed - no, not until I know more about this one (this is a video app that allows users to livestream whatever they are doing at that moment)
Creepy - no, seriously - it’s in the name! (this app uses a person’s Twitter and Facebook id to track their exact location. That is creepy.)
Dribbble - yes (but they probably don’t want it. This is basically a visual twitter for designers and creatives.)
MUSICAL.LY - i just added this one (Feb 2016) and my 9 year old is crazy about it, along with my 13 year old daughter. I has the potential to be dangerous (like any site) but seems harmless if you confirm that your child's account is PRIVATE. (And I am logged in as one of my kids on the app on my phone).
What about younger kids?
My 8 and 10 year old boys really enjoy RoBlox. It is a Minecraft like game with social media integrated. My teenager even got into a religious conversation with a fellow builder on Roblox and shared the gospel!
My 12 year old daughter was pretty active on Edmodo when their classroom used it. It is a great platform for them to chat with each other in a safe environment. If you have younger kids who really want to get on Instagram or Facebook, I’d encourage a group of friends to all get on Edmodo and create a class for them.
There are too many! How can I keep up with all this?
My husband and I work with teenagers, we have four kids, and are pretty tech-savvy, but we still can’t keep up with the fast pace of new apps and upgrades. We haven’t put protection on our home computers (comment if you have advice!), but have put some parameters around the devices. We are all Apple fans. We have Apple computers, iPods, iPhones, iMacs, and iPads… this makes it much easier. I just created iCloud accounts for all my kids, set up my husband and I as the parent/guardian for our Family Account, and turned on “Ask To Buy” for all our kids. Each child has their own settings. Some can get apps for ages 7+, some for 14+, I restricted internet that has mature ratings, because our kids sometimes use our phones and neither one of us wants to pop on a random explicit page anyway. When our kids want to purchase an app or download a free one, we both receive an alert with a link to the specific app wanted. If it’s outside their age limit, they can’t request it anyway. We immediately know what they want and are usually happy to let them get it!
I also created NetFlix accounts for our three younger kids, one for the teenager, and a third for us parents. They all have access to specific age appropriate shows (not that I really want them watching them, but I give and take when I can). They can just as easily click on the other account and watch adult shows, but we will know because it shows the history.
My kids ask, “Why all the fuss?”
Because we love you. “Every rule is for your health and safety.” They’ve heard that all their lives.
Cyber bullying is real and kids have even killed themselves over it. We have known some who have gotten pretty close to it even in our small town!
You can connect with your friends through cyberspace, but you also have to learn how to work out situations with your siblings through talking. You still have to play outside and read words written on actual paper.
Kids, by nature, do not yet have the mental maturity to think about the consequences of their actions… not in the way adults do. This includes teenagers. We want to do the best we can to set our kids up for success, let them learn from their mistakes, but also not walk into traps. And the world has set many traps that lure them right in.
Other good resources:
originally written sometime in early 2015 and one of the few salvaged from an old blog.
obviously this photo is not artwork of Natalie Watson... but rather my scrappy attempt to visually warn against social media.