As girls are spending more time online than ever before due to COVID-19, this question becomes an especially difficult one to answer. In this blog post, Editorial Volunteer Isabela Rocha explores this topic with the help of parents and experts.
Nadia Mullin allows her 8-year-old daughter to watch YouTube videos under supervision, which she said is a system that works well. So, she was surprised when, in a routine check, she found her girl playing Minecraft in a public online room. “That was a big no-no,” said Mullin. “She didn’t see the iPad for a while so she knows that’s the kind of stuff you can’t do. You can’t just play and let strangers in.”
Mullin’s biggest concern about her daughter’s screen time is privacy. She said she asks herself every day when her daughter will be ready to have her own social media accounts. “It scares me because I always think of information as more valuable than money,” said Mullin. “[On social media,] once you push the button and you send whatever you wanna send, that’s it.
Many parents ask themselves the same question, and to their relief – or despair – the answer is that there is no magic number. The mean age of getting on social media among US teens is 14, with 28% saying they started before age 13 and 30% saying they didn’t start before they were 15 or older, according to a 2019 census by Common Sense Media.
Social media apps such as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok allow 13-year-olds or older to open accounts, but that shouldn’t necessarily be the standard. The best way to tell if your girl is ready for social media is by testing her media literacy, according to Elizabeth Daniels, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.
Daniels said that kids need to be able to tell biased content from news, advertisements from regular posts, and credible information from fake news before they can safely use social media on their own.
Unmonitored children who don’t have media literacy are “more likely to disclose personal information because they are not [media-]savvy,” said Daniels. “Middle school age is the time to start working with children around media literacy skills.”
Julia Macedo’s 13-year-old daughter has her own TikTok account, which she can use under a curfew. Macedo said she talked a lot to her daughter about the impacts that social media can have on users before allowing her teen to use the app. The experience is working so far. “I didn’t feel like her life got worse because of [TikTok],” said Macedo. “My daughter is very responsible and she is not the kind of youngster who would… talk to strangers.”
But Macedo hasn’t allowed her daughter to have an Instagram account yet. She said that one app already takes a lot of her girl’s time, so she wants her daughter to learn how to manage her screen time before getting another social media account. “To be on a social media platform may take up, if you allow it, your whole life just browsing what’s going on in other people’s lives,” said Macedo. “I don’t want my kids to spend their lives on a screen.”
More than half of US teens (54%) feel like they spend too much time on their phones, but more than half of them also say that using social media makes them feel more supported (68%) and connected to their friends (81%), according to two 2018 studies by the Pew Research Center.
Healthy social media use depends on a balance between screen time and media literacy. The best way to reach this balance is by mindfully navigating social media while also having hobbies outside of it. Having hobbies outside of social media will help teens to want to spend time out of their devices, according to Dr. Dilshad Dayani, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Columbia University. According to Dayani, social media – when managed badly – can impact a teens’ sleep, exercise, homework management, and family engagement. “You should have equal time or more outside of the computer or phones where you find joy in living your life on a daily basis,” said Dayani.
So how can parents teach media literacy to their daughters? Some suggestions from our quoted specialists include: having a shared account with your girl at first, engaging in conversation with her about social media, and getting on social media yourself to understand how it works. There are also many teaching resources available online. The Institute of Digital Media and Child Development, recommended by Daniels, has many tips for parents on their website and we here at MEDIAGIRLS have online programming for pre-teen and teen girls that teaches girls about how media influences their well-being and how to help transform toxic media culture.
“Parenting cannot compete with the digital world, but parents can navigate the digital world to help their children understand what the limitations are and what is good or bad about [social media],” said Dayani. Resources like MEDIAGIRLS’s Virtual Workshops are here to help parents – by helping girls! – navigate social media in a way that is healthy and positive!
About the Author: Isabela Rocha is a Brazilian Journalism and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies student at Boston University. Her favorite book in this world is The Hunger Games and her favorite snack food is M&Ms. A 5-foot woman determined to change the world, Isa believes that women have the power to build a gender-equitable media, so she decided to take up that challenge by joining MEDIAGIRLS in the Fall of 2019.
Image Credit: Andrea Piacquadio from pexels.com.