Considerations for youth and social networking – Part 1: Having an account

Determining when youth should start using social networking accounts is a challenge and has a variety of factors that should be considered.

According to a 2015 Pew Research, 71 percent of teenagers 13-17 years old are using at least one social network site. With the high usage of social networking, there is a variety of factors adults must consider when helping youth decided when it is appropriate to start using social media. The first factor to consider is that most social networking websites and apps require youth be 13 years old to sign up. This is because of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which prevents companies from collecting certain information from youth under 13.

Does this mean that as soon as youth turn 13 they are ready to start utilizing social networking websites and apps? When many youth start using social networking, they may not be developmentally ready to deal with everything they encounter. Telling youth they can’t use something will only make them find alternative ways to start using social networking sites. Therefore, instead of telling youth no, create some guidelines together on their usage of social networking sites. Michigan State University Extension has some information that all parents and adults working with youth should consider when creating these guidelines.

  • Information on a profile. It is important to help youth understand what private information they shouldn’t be sharing in their profile. Full name, date of birth, address, current physical location and phone number should be information that is kept private on social networking sites.
  • Monitoring. It can be hard to determine how much you will monitor and what information youth should share with you regarding their social networking usage. When youth first start using social networking, it is a good idea to be a friend or follower of their social networking profiles. This will allow you to help them navigate the information they are sharing and give you teaching moments when they may be sharing information they should think twice about.
  • Privacy settings. It is extremely important for youth to be using privacy settings. Take the time to help youth know what the specific settings are for the different social networking sites they are using and how these settings can be used to limit people from seeing information. Adults should also remind youth that they regularly should be checking their privacy settings as policies change. Make it a habit to look at the settings once a month.
  • Help youth think about what they post. Remind youth that everything they post online can be seen by others and they need to be taking time to think about what they share. Watch this short video with youth called “Things to Ask Before Posting,” and read the Michigan State University Extension article “Things to consider when posting online – Part 3: Questions to consider” for more information.

Finally, as a parent, volunteer or other adult working with youth, it is important that you are talking to youth about how they are using social networking. Technology changes, apps come and go, and the next in social media platform will come about, but that doesn’t change the basic principles of privacy, security and safety. Adults should continually be reminding youth that nothing ever goes away once posted to a social networking site, and it can come back to haunt them in the future. Watch for future articles in this series on “Considerations for youth and social networking” that will explore topics of friends, privacy settings, boundaries and sharing photos more in depth.

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