How (and when) to introduce social media and mobiles to kids

<i></i>
 Photo: Getty Images

"All my friends have their own device," your child might be saying. 'Everyone' might also have their own Facebook and Instagram accounts and personal YouTube channel.

Of course, following the crowd isn't the ideal way to decide your child can get into technology, but it can be difficult to know when it's the right time to say yes to those requests.

We got the expert lowdown on where all things technological should begin.

When should your child be given their own device?

The first step your child might take towards the world of independent technology and social media usage is to ask for their own device.

When should you agree to it? Well, age is just one aspect of a child being ready to have their own device.

Psychologist Jocelyn Brewer says, "It depends on a lot of different factors – for instance, whether their school has a bring-your-own-device situation."

You'll need to put some thought into this request first. Consider:

"It's not just about whether your child should have a device, but about what they do with that device and the guidelines that go with it."

  • What will be the ground rules? "What rules, guidelines, expectations, communication and conversation has happened around what the device is for, what the device is not for and what they're allowed to do with it?"
  • Why does your child want a device? "What their motivations and intentions behind the technology use?"
  • What will the boundaries be? While time limits can be important boundaries to set, it's also important to know the things that your child is doing on their device. An educational literacy game, for example, is less worrying than playing games in order to escape reality for long periods at a time.

So, whether your child is six or 12 (or any other age), it's important to remember that handing over a device is only just the beginning of their foray into technology.

Set up good habits early

When your child is given their own device or is ready to start using some social media sites, it's vital to establish healthy digital habits in the early days.

This means having constant conversations about their technology usage. "The number one good technology habit is the child having communication with their carer," says Brewer.

Some questions to ask yourself and discuss with your child, in order to establish good habits, include:

  • What can the device be used for?
  • What should it not be used for?
  • When can it be used and when should it be set aside?
  • What are the boundaries?

You can also set up the idea of good habits before your child has their own device or gets onto social media, by exposing them to the concept.

In order to get ahead, Brewer suggests role modelling good habits as well as sharing conversations about what you do online. "You can use your own experiences as talking points with kids – for example tell your child about how you wanted to rant at something online that day and how you dealt with it," she says.

When should children be on social media?

While the Australian Communications and Media Authority's 2013 report showed that 78% of eight-to nine-year-olds and 92% of 10-to 11-year-olds have used a social network, experts suggest sticking to the minimum age of 13 as specified on sites like Facebook.

"It's about developmental appropriateness, and young people understanding the responsibility that comes with the platforms," Brewer explains. "Parents need to gauge their child's emotional development and their level of responsibility first."

Your child's emotional wellbeing and security have to come first, so it's important to come to this decision mindfully. "It's an ongoing process of development, not just that your child is 13 and ready," says Brewer. "There might be a process where your child is on training wheels and you need to be extra vigilant, noticing habits and walking your child through that as you would with other developmental steps."

Brewer adds, "Parents don't need to be social media gurus, but they do need to have a clear sense of what they're opening their child up to."

To help you decide if your child is ready, try the Alannah and Madeline Foundation's eSmart Digital Licence. It's like a licence to drive social media safely, where kids can show they know the basics and understand the implications before getting online.

Other useful resources: