An Age Appropriate Guide To Adding Friends

If you’re considering buying a cell phone for your child or giving them a laptop or tablet, you’ve probably already thought about which apps you’ll allow them to download and which of the social media platforms you think are suitable for them to use. However, have you actually thought about how you’re going to keep an eye on their contacts list?

While digital technology is a great way for your kids to keep in touch with their friends, it’s important to be hands-on about helping your child to choose who they want to add to their contacts, especially if your child is on the younger end of the age spectrum.

An At-A-Glance Example By Age

  • Elementary School – if your child is still in elementary school you should definitely know all of their friends and contacts.
  • Middle School – if your child is at middle school, you will probably be aware of most, if not all, of their contacts even if you’ve never met them in person. While they may follow celebrities that they are interested in, this should be the only form of connection they have with anyone they don’t actually know in person. You should also ensure that at this age they are comfortable to refuse a contact or unfriend someone who is bothering them.
  • High School – by this age, your child’s contacts list should be pretty much in their own control, however they should know how they can get help should they be harassed online or be uncomfortable with something that is happening in their online world. At this age you should still feel free to ask your child about any contact they have that you don’t know.
  • Entering Collegeby this stage in your child’s life it’s unlikely that you know many of their online contacts since their networks will be expanding both in their professional and personal life. They may need to be reminded at this stage about context overlap and being careful about the possibility of their online posts being seen by professional contacts.

Discussing Contacts With Your Child

Once you have given your child permission to have their own social media profile, it’s vital to have a discussion about who they should accept friend requests from and who they should send them to. While it’s definitely appropriate to chat to friends and family members, if they receive any friend requests from adults outside their family they should probably be rejected unless they are very well known to your child – perhaps their best friend’s parents, for example. Connecting with teachers on social media is also a definite no-no, and while older children will probably be aware of this, you may need to point this out to your younger child.

Taking It Slowly

You should encourage your child to build up their list of contacts slowly and mindfully so that they don’t end up with countless “friends” on their list that they don’t actually recognize. Teach your child that it’s perfectly acceptable to ignore a friend request from anyone they don’t know or that they don’t want to talk to.

Top Tips

Here are a few top tips to help you to instil in your child a healthy approach to adding contacts:

  • Begin with just a few contacts – family members and close friends only.
  • Don’t add their whole class straight away, just a couple of close friends at first.
  • Remind your child that they should never share their telephone number.
  • Help them to find ways of saying no. If necessary, tell a younger child that they can blame you. 
  • Check in with your child periodically to talk about their new contacts.

Above all, remind your child that they shouldn’t be stressed out by their contacts – their connections are key to the way that they feel when they’re using their tablet or phone, and they can take control over that aspect of their life.

Taken from the July 2018 issue of Geek Parenting, out now!

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