Over the last 11 years I have become a mom five times over again. I have navigated the delirium of newborns, the persistence of toddlers, and the excitement and fun of elementary-age kids.
Parenting a Tween
But navigating the experience of being the mom of a tween has been a whole different ball game. It’s an entirely new set of firsts, and also challenges.
One new situation we had to navigate was the topic of social media.
Here’s more details on our experience and why we ultimately decided to allow our 11-year son (J) to access social media:
First, right around J’s 11th birthday he requested social media. This was a culmination after he received a used phone for games and Facebook Messenger Kids the year prior.
Then our son began spending more time outside of the home and hanging out with friends. We decided with all the activities and people heading in different directions that our son needed to be able to reach us. So, we added phone access and data to it.
J was thrilled to get other friends’ phone numbers. At this age more of his friends had access to phones also. And by that spring he had asked about 4,578,496 times (give or take) for social media, specifically TikTok or Snapchat. My husband and I were not familiar with either option — we’re old!
And every time the answer was no.
My husband and I explained time and time again that we just didn’t think it was safe or appropriate. J began to believe that answer was related to his behavior, school performance, or other odd expectations. Even though we reiterated that it was not.
Social Media Options
But one day my perspective changed thanks to him, his maturity, and his persistence. After he had been hanging out with some buddies I asked what they had been up to. My son stated he was making TikTok videos with some friends and he wanted an account.
This changed my perspective. I felt that I truly couldn’t keep him from social media, just from using it on his own device.
I called a friend with a kiddo the similar age to help me navigate social media options with a tween. One option she showed me that seemed promising was a 13 and under account. It didn’t allow connections with certain people, I would be able to review interactions, and it “tried” to weed out all explicit or inappropriate things (although nothing is perfect).
I also came to the realization that if my child was continually told no, he would find ways around it through other people’s devices and potentially some poor content that I had no control over.
J is a good kid and decently mature and through his persistence and after reviewing our options we settled on a TikTok account for 13 and under.
Now even if you are coming at me with pitchforks after these details, I want you to know that social media doesn’t have to be an all or nothing option if you are finding yourself in this same situation. Make your best judgment as the parent for your child.
Here are some tips on boundaries we have set to ensure this social media introduction is as safe and healthy as possible:
Boundaries for Tweens
- Limit daily use. We only allow 20 minutes of Tiktok viewing a day.
- No phones allowed in bedrooms; the use must always be out in the open.
- Monitoring online activity. My babysitter has a Tiktok account and monitors and shares (some of his stuff is pretty funny!) and he openly shares it with us as well.
- I review texts and phone apps once a week or as necessary — so far, so good.
- Phones are charged in the kitchen and not allowed to be taken to bed at night.
Social Media Is Here to Stay
Again, at the end of the day social media isn’t going anywhere as our kids are getting older.
And I am coming to terms that my control over my tween’s activities are slowly being pulled away as he grows up and becomes more independent. But I still want to set him up for the most success possible with healthy habits regarding the appropriate use of social media.
Finally, this week I noticed an incredible benefit of social media. J saw a video about the Oxford school shooting on TikTok and how the shooter tried to pretend to be law enforcement.
While this isn’t the reality we want to face, we were able to have a great conversation about protecting ourselves and watching for red flags from peers. We were able to discuss some of the sad stuff in the world in a safe place.
I can’t keep the world as perfect as I once could when J was younger, and I was thankful in that moment that social media brought us together for a good conversation with regard to really intense situations.
There is good and bad in social media, as in all things. And it’s our job as parents to set limits and help our tweens navigate the world around them.