Q: At what age, or by what metrics, are kids old enough to have their own digital presence, such as a Twitter handle or Facebook page?
A: This is such an important question. Our digital content now follows us around in ways none of us envisioned when the internet first became mainstream. With new social-media tools popping up every day, we need to be even more diligent about the content we create. With every post, we leave behind a digital footprint.
So when should children go live online? There's no easy answer. Each child, and each family, is different. Here are some guidelines to help you decide:
Ask yourself how you feel about your child having a digital presence that is open for family, friends, schools, employers and strangers to see. Ask him or her the same thing. This is a big responsibility; is your daughter ready for it? Does she understand what it means to have content online for anyone to see?
Read the End User License Agreement (EULA) of the social media channel your child wants to join. (A quick Google search will help you find it.) Make sure he or she is old enough to have an account. Many social networks are specifically designed for ages 13 and up. Social networks oriented to younger children exist; find a list here: commonsensemedia.org/lists/social-networking-for-kids.
Think carefully about how your child will use the social network. Is it to connect with family and friends? To express his creativity and individuality? Different sites serve different purposes. A Facebook page is great for connecting, but if your child likes to write or create videos, a blog or a YouTube channel might be better.
Once you decide to jump in, set ground rules as a family. The younger the child, the more monitoring is necessary to make sure she understands the significance of what she's doing. Invite her to share what she's doing with you. Go onto the site with her. Agree on what is OK to post and what isn't, and be sure to set firm consequences for breaking the rules — including losing access to that social network.
Elaine Young is the author of Tuned-In Family: How to Cope, Communicate & Connect in a Digital World, and is a professor at Champlain College, where she specializes in digital marketing and social media. Got a question about navigating the digital world with your family? Send it to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.