By Jessica, Special Agent
Electronic Crimes, US Department of Justice, Mom, and Wife

The internet and social media are here to stay and they are always evolving, with new apps and information constantly being added.

The internet has changed how we gather and share information and how we interact with others.

Social media is just one aspect of the internet and a tool we all use to share with others.

Our children have grown up with the internet and social media apps, they don’t know a world once existed without it.

For our children, the internet is a way of life…social media is a way to communicate both positively and negatively with their peers.

As parents what can we do?

We can try to fight the inevitable, what we know is already out there or we can accept it as a tool.

We can educate ourselves and our children, about the upside and pitfalls of the internet and social media.

I believe as a parent, we know our children better than most.

As parents we know the dangers that lurk out there on the internet.

It is up to us to know whether or not our children are ready for social media and the internet.

It is our duty to inform our children and educate them on it.

Here are a few questions you can use with your child:

What is your understanding of social media?
Why do you want social media?
Account security? Do they know what that means? (For younger children this may not apply)
Do they agree to allow parents full access to accounts? If no, then child doesn’t get to sign up.
Here is how the conversation went in my house:

My son is 11 years old…my husband and I decided this past year that he was responsible enough to have a cell phone.

We went over the “rules and responsibilities” of owning said device, and installed parental apps to monitorhis usage and activities.

This included getting alerts whenever he tried to download a new app.

Fast forward to several months later after our son received his phone.

I was downstairs and my phone alerts me to a new email.

The email tells me that someone is trying to set up an Instagram and Facebook account on my son’s phone.

I call my son downstairs and ask him if he’s trying to set up these social media accounts.

I explain that he’s not in trouble but I need to know if he’s the one trying to set these up.

He looks sheepishly at me and says, “Yeah”.

I begin the discussion by asking him why he wants to establish these accounts and if he understands the responsibility of owning these social media accounts.

I can see the look of confusion about, “Responsibility? But it’s just Facebook and Instagram.”

He tells me that his friends have social media accounts so he wants to be like them.

We discuss his choice of a profile name and password….because I notice they are identical.

I explain to him that for account security they should not and cannot be the same.

He looks surprised and says, “Oh!”

I then go into the concerns about people that pose as others (you know the adult creeper that pretends to be a child), cyber bullying etc.

I’ve had these “talks” with my son before but he’s eleven and probably tuned me out the last time and forgot the rest.

I can see the wheels turning in his head, the look on his face changing from (“oh great, mom is going to say no again”) to….”I didn’t think about that”.

In a matter of minutes my son exhales a big sigh, looks at me and says, “I guess I’m not ready for social media yet”.

Bear in mind, these conversations should be age appropriate and they should be frequent.

I didn’t have to use that dreaded two letter word kids hate to hear (N-O), instead I gave my son the ability to think about it and decide.

But to be honest, if he hadn’t decided for himself, I would have said no because he’s not ready.