Social-MediaGone are the days of rotary phones and passing notes. We’re living in a digital age and we need to get up to speed or our kids will leave us in the dust. There’s much to consider when it comes to setting our kids “free” with technology that has Internet capabilities and social media and apps that are continually changing!

Is your tween/teen pleading for a smart phone? iPad? Facebook? Snapchat? This is a bigger deal than you might first think. Here are a few things that you’d be wise to consider …

Are they old enough and mature enough to handle the responsibility of its use?

I can’t tell you how many preschoolers I know who have their own tablets and iPads, so the line of demarcation for when a child is ready for various technologies is admittedly pretty blurry, and you must weigh and follow your own convictions on this. Before you give your kids technology that allows them to access the Internet (cell phone, tablet, iPad, laptop, xBox, Wii, etc.), there are some things you might think about.

Sleep – will they have it with them at bedtime? Will they actually sleep or will they stay up and text or surf? Growing kids need sleep. Set strict rules about phone curfews and enforce them.

Texting and Driving – You’ve seen kids doing this while they sped down the highway or sat at a stoplight. In fact, I have teens in my life who don’t think texting at a stoplight counts as texting and driving. Hello? Are you sitting behind the wheel of a running vehicle? (End of discussion)

[Aside: I’ll admit that I’ve been tempted to text my 16 y.o. son to see if he’s on his way home or to ask him to pick something up for me. If he IS on his way, then he’s going to be tempted to read my text and maybe even respond to it. We’ve found the Find My Friends (iPhone) app to be our answer to this. We follow each other and I can see where his car is, so I know when she’s on the road and I don’t have to text her! Note: Life360 is a Family Locator App that is similar for Android users.]

Social Media
You should know that for many social media apps (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), your child must be at least 13 years old or they are in violation of the app’s terms and conditions.

Here’s a great place to read about the age restrictions for various social media platforms.

I encourage you to think twice about helping them open an account when they are underage, because the only way to do that is for to lie about their age. And what’s that teaching them?

Here’s this mom’s take on this … if they need to be reminded on a daily basis to change their underwear and brush their teeth, then they aren’t ready for the responsibility of all that the Internet and social media is going to throw at them. (I didn’t say it was a popular opinion!)

What’s YOUR social networking proficiency?

Let’s face it, most of our kids can run circles around us on the Internet. Do you know your way around social networking sites? Are you equipped to teach your teens how to use them safely? Do you know which ones to avoid?

Exhale! It’s okay! You don’t have to know it all, but you should know where to find information about various social media sites and apps. Here is one place I look for advice, but keep in mind that in the end YOU are the parent and only you can make the call about what’s appropriate for your kids.

Are YOU ready for the time commitment?
I hate to break it to you, but when it comes to social media, the best policy is that if your kids are on a social media site or app – so are you. In fact, you’re not only on it; you’re an active participant. You’re their first friend, follower, or fan. And (GULP) you have all of their passwords and they aren’t allowed to block or un-friend or un-follow you.

It takes time and energy—two things of which we’re often short—but this is essential. If you simply can’t be involved on social media, then ask your spouse or another trusted friend or family member if they will be your eyes on social media. Then give them permission to tell you if they see any concerning usage by your child.

One of my fellow Choose-Now columnists, Brenda Yoder, wrote a terrific post on How to Monitor Your Middle Schooler’s Social Media. Trust me, this isn’t just for parents of middle schoolers! There’s so much great information, you need to just go and read it!

Have you set some ground rules?

As always, you know your child(ren) best and know what they can and cannot handle. When your kids are first using new technology or are joining social media sites, it’s a great idea to write out your expectations and the ramifications if they aren’t met. If you’re not sure where to start, there are some terrific online contracts that you can print out, read through, and sign with your kids. I’m going to list a few here. Find the one that fits your family best or use them as a launch pad for writing your own. Either way, keep that contract posted where your kids see it and where you can point to it if they need their memory refreshed. Pledges Contract

Family Online Safety Institute (You should check this site out just for the wealth of ideas for how to do this well!) They have great Online Safety Cards for Technology Gifts Internet Safety Contract

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children: NetSmartz. Go to: Choose an Issue for a plethora of terrific information on cell phones, internet safety, social networking, gaming, predators, cyberbullying, revealing too much information, sexting, and more!

Finally …

I’m 48 years old and most of my social media time is spent on Facebook. That’s one of the very reasons Facebook isn’t the number 1 go-to social media spot for teens anymore … the “old” people are there. The average teen is looking for fun, new, social apps where everybody doesn’t know their name and they can capture and share fleeting moments. Some of those apps are terrific (Instagram), but some are simply dangerous.

Here’s a list of apps that get a swift “NO” at our house. Just NO. Many of these are temporary apps, meaning that the users can send messages and images that self-destruct after a short time limit.

Snapchat – send messages and photos that disappear after 10 seconds

Slingshot – similar to Snapchat except you must send a photo or video before you can view the one that’s been sent to you.

Whisper – users type a confession and share it with a community

Secret – Speak Freely – users anonymously vent, confess, share what’s on their mind – users ask questions and share secrets anonymously

Omegle – provides an anonymous place to chat especially about sex, drugs, alcohol, and violence

Line – an all-in-one mobile hub for games and group chat, but it includes a hidden chat option

Kik – send messages and photos anonymously

Tinder – online dating app for tweens and teens (Yes, really!)

Philippians 4:8-9 (Message) reminds us why it’s so important that we remain the mentors, examples, and gatekeepers when it comes to our teens’ use of technology and social media.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating
on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—
the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.
Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized.
Do that, and God, who makes everything work together,
will work you into his most excellent harmonies.