Happy New Year!

It’s hard to believe 2019 has come and gone. In fact, we are almost halfway through the first month of 2020. As a kid, time seemed to drag on. And now, I feel like I’m hanging on for dear life as I’m pulled at breakneck speeds through each day.

We made it through Christmas relatively well. But I’m always caught off guard how quickly it is over. Despite putting hours into researching and deal hunting, it takes a mere fraction of that time to open all the gifts, and it seems like even less time for my kids to be bored. Actually, that’s not true. We were very intentional with our gifts this year, and here we are two and a half weeks post-Christmas and the kids are still enjoying what they found under the tree.

Our oldest daughter hit double digits in September. This was a hard Christmas for us, because we weren’t exactly sure when to transition to “older” gifts. We weren’t sure if she would be disappointed by clothes instead of toys. And we know that most kids her age are beginning to have their own digital footprints.

Her only real request was a Fit Bit. And since this request came after I had finished gift shopping, I had to find a budget version that would still do what she wanted it to do.

What I thought was a fitness tracker ended up being an introductory smart watch. And my husband and I found ourselves stepping into a parenting realm we thought was a few years away.

Luckily, though a “smart” watch, the only messaging feature has to be between users with the same watch. It doesn’t have the capabilities to call or even access the internet. But with children even younger than her venturing into the online world, I wanted to know what was a good age to allow her to spend (well supervised) time online.

Protect Young Eyes (www.protectyoungeyes.com) is an organization that has as its mission to protect young eyes (pretty clever, no?) Their goal is to create safer spaces for our kids to enjoy online, and they had some pretty good tips about knowing when your child is ready for life online.

Are their IRL (in real life) relationships full of drama? If the answer is yes, then they probably aren’t ready for online friendships. Drama and tension are often only escalated when there is a screen to hide behind. If your kids are struggling with the friendships they have at school, it isn’t wise to look for friendships on the internet.

In addition, how does your child interact with adults? Can they carry on a conversation with a non-parental adult? Are they confident enough to make eye contact during a conversation? Will they order their own food at a restaurant? If you child has the maturity and skill for in-person communication, then that is a good sign they may be ready for social media.

What about sneakiness? Is your child sneaky, or do they regularly break rules and push boundaries? Do you have enough trust and faith in them to leave them home alone for an hour or two? If they can’t respect the rules you have in the house, it’s incredibly likely they won’t respect the rules you have online. And if you don’t feel they can be left unsupervised in person, they certainly don’t need to be left unsupervised online.

What kind of conversations have you had with your child? Do they know the dangers of online predators and grooming? Can they identify red flags in conversations? Do they know what they should do if someone asks for a picture or sends an online gift or asks to meet up? As outlandish as it sounds, if you can’t talk to your child about the dangers of sex trafficking, pornography or texting because you think they are “too young,” then they are certainly too young to venture into life online. Social media and the online world is literally a playground for those trying to take advantage of young kids.

If you are ready to have a “what if” conversation with your kids, and talk about the hard things like sexual exploitation, and if they are able to act maturely during the conversation, then they may be ready for social media. Walk with them through different scenarios and see how they respond.

Additionally, don’t be afraid to monitor their life online. Their safety is much more important than their privacy. Limit their time online, and the devices they have that can take them online. Designate certain areas of your house as “tech-free” and “tech-only.” Make sure the “tech-only” areas are common areas like the kitchen, living room or dining room. And I’d argue that bedrooms should be internet free.

Most online social media platforms require a minimum age of 13. But there is no way to really check ages. And if your kids lie about their age to get online, who else is lying about their age?

It’s a scary world out there. And especially after Christmas, when more and more children have the internet in the palm of their hands, I encourage you to have these conversations with your kids and grandkids. Make sure they are ready for the responsibility of life online. It’s our job to make sure they are ready for life off- and on-line.