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The Right Age for Social Media

Dear Harlan: I’m hoping you can help. My daughter is begging my husband and me to let her sign up for Instagram and Snapchat. She has a group of friends who are all connected. We only gave her a cellphone for her to communicate with us for logistical reasons. She is 11 years old, and feels like we are the worst people in the world because we limit her behavior. She tells me that she feels left out of the group because she’s not included. We allow her to text message with friends, but have been holding firm on not allowing her to participate in social networks. It’s become a very sensitive issue for us; we’re talking all-out arguments where my daughter yells, “I hate you! You are the worst parents in the world!” Have you heard of other parents doing this? Are we wrong? — Limiting Parents

Dear Broken:  She’s going to push, push and push, but you are 100 percent justified. First, there’s the legal case: According to the terms of service for both Instagram and Snapchat, the legal age to use the networks is 13 years old. That buys you a year or two. Next, there are the social implications. Yes, Instagram can make a kid feel included and connected, but according to a recent survey (search for #StatusOfMind on social media), it’s also the social network that can have the most negative effect on mental health and well-being (more than Facebook and Snapchat). The challenge is that Snapchat and Instagram are preteens’ way of passing notes and being part of a social group. Only when we passed notes, we knew who was getting the note and it couldn’t be broadcast to the world. Understanding and learning where your daughter is coming from would be my focus. Understand that it’s important to her, and make sure she knows that you know. Then, learn more about the networks. Get on Instagram and Snapchat. Understand the benefits and risks. Talk about it with her. Listen to how she processes the images and conversations. When she’s 13, you can decide what’s best for her. If the anger and resentment doesn’t stop, enlist the help of a therapist. Start by understanding and learning so you can be included, connected and informed.

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