Ask BBB: Parenting Advice from Betsy Brown Braun

QUESTION: My 10-year-old mentioned something about wanting to have an Instagram account. I think she is too young. What age is appropriate for us to allow her to have social media accounts?

BBB: Boy, have you ever asked a hot-button question! It confronts every parent of growing elementary school age children today. And everyone you ask has a different opinion.

Let me start by giving you a reality check: The legal age for a child to have a Facebook or Instagram is 13 years old. That’s right, 13!

That should be all that needs to be said. But that just isn’t the case. This one is complicated, really complicated.

I believe it is incumbent upon every parent to model following the letter of the law. A child cannot get behind the wheel of an automobile alone until he has a driver’s license at 16 years old. No exceptions. That one is pretty easy. A child may not drink alcohol of any kind until she is 21 years old. Not quite as easy, as we know what is happening at teen parties these days, legal age or not.

But we parents do need to abide by the rules if we expect our children to do so. There can be no fuzzy messages. It’s either okay or it is not.

(See my article on the Partnership for a Drug Free America website, It’s Just A Sip )

And the law says a child must be 13 years old to have an Instagram account. I am quite sure this holds true for Snapchat, Twitter, Tumblr, Kik Messenger, ooVoo, Vine, Burn Note, Whisper, Yik Yak, Skout, and a whole host of others. (New social media sites are popping up every single day.)

Social Media is particularly difficult because you need to balance your family’s beliefs, practices and rules with the social culture in which your child lives and the peer pressure she may experience. I am not saying that you break the law because her friends are doing so; I am saying that reality makes it HARD!

I wish I had a clear, firm answer for you. I just don’t.

I do believe all children need to know that some permissions come with age. Whether it is getting your ears pierced, having an allowance, wearing make-up, going to the mall alone, car dating…all of these are related to a child’s age as well as her ability to be responsible and trustworthy. The child needs to tolerate this reality, as disappointed as she might be.

I also believe there are ways to allow versions of the desired privilege without actually giving in. For example, you daughter might be able to send a text from your phone. You know the drill.

There is something of which I am very sure when it comes to parenting children: Saying, “But everyone has it, does it, is allowed to go, etc…” is never a reason for the parent to give in or grant permission. Children need to know that you make your rules based on what is right for your family and your child. You may consider the standard in your child’s peer group; you may discuss with other parents what they allow. But granting permission based on what others do should not happen. It certainly isn’t a good precedent.

This topic is wide and deep. Just know there is a great deal to consider, more than I am able to cover in one column.

Betsy Brown Braun, M.A. is a Child Development and Behavior Specialist (infants to teens), a Parent Educator and Multiple Birth Parenting Specialist. Betsy consults with parents privately, runs parenting groups, seminars and workshops for parents, teachers and other professionals. She is the author of the bestselling “Just Tell Me What to Say” and has been featured on the “Today Show.” Betsy and Ray Braun, Palisades residents for 38 years, are the parents of adult triplets and have five grandchildren, so far.