These days, the use of social media starting younger and more forms of social media are sprouting up fast. Facebook, Google+ and Instagram are just a few sites that are gaining popularity with elementary aged children.  The big question is – How young is too young to be navigating the social media world?

In fact, Facebook set the boundary that all users must be at least 13 years old to use their service and Facebook acquired Instagram in September 2012, therefore they have the same “Term of Use” with respect to age. That being said, lots of under aged children are signing up for Facebook and Instagram with (sometimes without) parental consent.

It is important to have a conversation that is focused on how to use social media in a responsible way, rather than focus on if they should be using social media or not.  Everyone should keep in mind that our elementary aged students will be 13 someday soon and it is our responsibility, as educations and parents, to teach our children how to be responsible “digital citizens” and discuss how they are creating a digital footprint. What they post today, can follow them way into adulthood. Posting or writing mean or hurtful things to each other just takes one simple click and can be imprinted for life. The lack of tone or expression in writing posts can also lead to others misinterpreting what is written as something mean or harsh. Posting inappropriate pictures of someone else can be hurtful and embarrassing.

Elementary school aged children are only starting to figure out relationship dynamics and how their actions can affect others. Developing and maintaining healthy relationships online can be very complex and challenging for our children to grasp (It is even challenging for adults!). The key is to educate and prepare our students to be social media savvy and to be confident that they are using social media in a fun, safe and respectful way.

Below are some social networking tips from Common Sense Media:
(*Internet Safety Basics)
Help your kids understand that they should:
• Never share their names, schools, ages, phone numbers, or addresses;
• Never send pictures to strangers;
• Keep passwords private (except to parents);
• Never open email from strangers — it may contain viruses that can harm a computer; and
• Immediately tell an adult if something mean or creepy happens.
Strategies for a responsible — and safer — online life
• Visit only age-appropriate sites. Check out the site before your kids visit it. Know what features and what content exist and make sure they’re good for your kids.
• Search safely. Use safe search settings for young kids or think about applying filtering software to limit inappropriate exposure.
• Avoid strangers. Tell your kids that people aren’t always who they say they are in cyberspace. Explain that if someone they don’t know talks to them, they shouldn’t respond but should let you know.
• Be a good cyber citizen! Remind kids that an Internet playground is still a playground and they need to play nicely. A good rule of thumb: If they wouldn’t do something in real life, they shouldn’t do it online. Find out how your children can report mean behavior or unkind content on their favorite sites and teach them how to do it.
• Online cheating? It’s still cheating and it’s a no-no — pure and simple.
• Keep the computer in a central place. So you can see what’s going on.
• Establish expectations and limits about the amount of time your children spend online and what they do. Check out our family media agreement for a helpful place to start.
• View your own habits carefully. You are their role models.
• But, mostly, be involved and have fun with them! Keeping kids safe and teaching them how to use digital technology responsibly is all about staying involved. Start by showing interest in the sites they visit and the games they play and your job will be a lot easier when they start exploring these technologies more independently.*

* © 2010