Your kid is ready to join social media. Here's how to set boundaries to keep them safe.

Experts suggest implementing shared passwords, time limits and privacy settings.

Parents and kids should discuss appropriate guidelines around social media. (Image: Getty Images; Illustration by Natalie Nelson for Yahoo)
Parents and kids should discuss appropriate guidelines around social media. (Image: Getty Images; Illustration by Natalie Nelson for Yahoo)

With 4.76 billion people worldwide on social media, it's only natural for kids to want to join in at some point. But, just like adults, kids can easily get hooked on scrolling through posts and spending a little too much time on TikTok, Twitter or Instagram that they could have used for reading or playing outside.

If you're thinking about letting your child join social media or are concerned about their usage on the platforms they already belong to, you may have some questions about how to talk to them about social media boundaries. Ideally, experts say, these are conversations you should have before you let your child join.

"It is much easier to talk to your children about boundaries before giving them a new freedom or responsibility than it is to give them the freedom and then have to set new boundaries later," Stephanie Strumberger, a licensed clinical counselor at Northwestern Medicine Woodstock Hospital, tells Yahoo Life.

Adelle Cadieux, a pediatric psychologist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, agrees. But, if your child has already joined social media, she says it's still important to talk about boundaries with them. "The sooner the parent has a discussion with their teen, the better," she tells Yahoo Life.

What boundaries should you consider for social media?

The boundaries and limitations you set are ultimately up to you, but experts say there are a few basics that are important to at least consider.

  • Set time frames for use, along with time limits.

  • Discuss which platforms are and aren't OK to use.

  • Create privacy restrictions to dictate who can and can't see their posts.

  • Lay out activities when social media use is not allowed, like during family dinners.

  • Have a shared login and password.

  • Talk about which content is and isn't OK to view.

  • Go over private information that is and isn't acceptable to share.

"I would suggest that you, as their parent, be allowed to be a friend on that platform, at least at the beginning," Strumberger says. "I would also recommend that they not have access to it alone in their room. There is too much of a sense of privacy that, while we want to respect a pre-teenager’s privacy to a degree in a lot of ways, I don’t believe social media applies here, because it, in and of itself, is not private."

Kelly Maynes, a pediatric psychologist at Connecticut Children’s, tells Yahoo Life that parents should also caution their children about the importance of privacy online. "Boundaries should also include limiting photos or videos, and being aware of what details in photos can be used to gather information you may not want shared," she says. "For example, a photo taken in someone's bedroom or outside their home might include images of personal belongings you'd prefer to keep private."

How to talk to your child about social media boundaries

Maynes recommends that you "start with honesty," and let your child know that you might be learning about the dangers of certain platforms you're not familiar with and want to take safe steps along with them. "It might be tempting to give kids a blanket 'no, never' suggestion around social media platforms," she says. "Unfortunately, that leaves a missed opportunity to talk candidly about the risks we know exist and the willingness to work with kids to make sure they are safe."

After that, Maynes suggests offering your child a sense of trust. "Being on social media carries some big responsibilities — you are trusting them to make good decisions, and you are here to help them do that," she says.

Cadieux recommends that you find a time to talk when your child isn't distracted. "Consider evenings when parent and teen are both home as opposed to just before school or when the teen or parent needs to leave soon," she says. "Allow time to review expectations, safety and consequences if the teen is not following parental rules and guidelines around social media use."

Once you've established the boundaries, Cadieux suggests talking with your child to make sure they feel OK about their social media use and potential consequences. "Check in with your teen about how their peer relationships are going since joining social media, so that you can support them in navigating what to share and not share, [and] how to handle demands for immediate responses, or other challenges that can arise," she says.

How to ensure your boundaries are being respected

It's a good idea to let your child know that you will be consistently monitoring their social media use, Mayra Mendez, a licensed psychotherapist and program coordinator for mental health services at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life. "That way, it's not done in secret," she says. That can mean looking at their posts from your account or actually being next to them when they use social media, she says.

"Some children may be able to handle a little more time without a parent watching everything they type," Mendez says. "But some children may not."

Experts stress that it's important to remind yourself — and your child, if needed — that you are the gatekeeper for their social media use. "If they don’t seem to be respecting the boundaries, then it’s time for another discussion," Strumberger says.

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