Helping your child to navigate social media

By Heidi Reynolds – Counselling Social Worker. Head of The Family Life Centre’s Parenting Skills Training.

Deciding when to give your child a smart phone is an important decision, a guideline is usually at around age 12. At this stage your child should be mature and responsible enough to own a smart phone. An important part of giving your child a smart phone is the discussion

around online safety. A good place to start is by asking your child what they know about online safety, ask them what the dangers are, what they think parents worry about and what the rules for their phone should be. This allows you to quickly work out what your child does and does not know.

It is important that you have done your research before the discussion so that you understand the terminology and the risks associated with online platforms like social media. You will probably be amazed at how much your child does know, and if you have done your research you will be able to help fill in the gaps in their knowledge.

By asking your child to set the rules, it shows your child that you trust them and that you

expect them to be responsible. If this is the starting point you create, they are more likely

to adhere to the rules. Without this initial discussion with your child, they are less likely

to adhere to the rules as they have not had a chance for their own input in the process.

The main goal in setting the rules together with your child is to develop trust and to keep

the conversation open between parents and children.

If you establish this relationship of trust with your child, they are more likely to come to

you if something on social media makes them feel uncomfortable. For example, a 13-

year-old girl was receiving messages from several boys on a website, the messages were

enticing and interesting but made her feel uncomfortable. In this case, the girl she felt

secure enough to discuss the issue with her mother and show her the messages. They

were able to have an open conversation about the messages and the girl decided to block

the boys off her phone. Her mother opened the conversation about ‘cat fishing’ and how

to recognize it and how to be safe, giving her daughter important information without

creating conflict.

Setting Reasonable Boundaries