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Into The Fire: Social Media at Eight?!


I never thought I'd see the day when I'd let my eight year old have access to any form of social media. But I never thought I'd see a global pandemic that keeps us away from our normal lives, so my parenting priorities have understandably shifted. I'm sure yours have, too.

We dipped our toes in with Google Classroom with her school, the Meet video chats extended after the actual lesson for general socialization. Zoom meetings for church small groups and Google Hangouts with her good church friend she misses so much quickly followed. (We learned to try Mad Libs as an undercover learning opportunity!) We used the Google Chrome extension Netflix Party to watch a movie with her Girl Scout troop, and the girls chatted with text on the same screen.

Then a school friend's mom asked about Facebook’s Messenger Kids. Apparently a lot of our second graders already had it, but this mom was just signing up her girl and wanted mine to be part of that, too, if we wanted. Without hesitation, any deep thought or real consideration and with deep gratitude for this friend including my daughter, I signed up.

Messenger Kids is an extension of my Facebook account, and privacy settings keep her from adding contacts without my ok. I also can see every message sent and received, so even if I’m not hovering in real time, I’m able to provide supervision. There are settings for time limits and sleeping hours, so the app won’t work while she is (or should be) sleeping. As far as social media for young children goes, it seems like the best option going. (Let me know if you’ve found something you like better though!)

We found other devices that can run Messenger Kids to allow access to her friends without needing to commandeer my computer or phone. I was able to install the app on her Kindle Fire in the Free Time section. In a junk drawer, we stumbled onto my last phone, which still holds a charge and has enough computing power to run Messenger Kids on WiFi, so we’ve set that up as an option, too.

Learning social media takes time, and my girl is being thrown into the fire. She's all for it, but her lack of etiquette speaks to her age and experience level. She’s prone to wandering off if bored and is more interested in games (growing a pet?) that aren't actually social than true interaction. I never wanted her to have to figure this out now. She should be navigating cafeteria social skills (which were coming along after a rocky start to the year) rather than emojis and technical details. But here we are.

We need to have deeper conversations about friendship and what does and does not translate to the screen, even when it's a video call. We already had our first naked butt sighting (a friend's two-year-old little brother). Talks about nudity and never showing your underwear (including your own sister in the background) feel like preteen conversations that are key to having now.

As we have sat with Messenger Kids for a week so far, getting to know the nuances and finding good times to have access when other friends are also online, I still hate it. I see its value for this time and am so grateful for any connection to her "normal" life beyond our walls, but I want my kid to stay “a kid.” Right now being a kid in our context includes social media, so I’m learning to be OK.

I still can't see an end to this stay-at-home time. As much as I hope we can lay Messenger Kids and online video chats aside once regular face-to-face contact is once again the norm (except for with grandparents who live far away from us and are already heavy Facebook users),  I don't know if you can put the genie back in the bottle. Also by the time this is “over,” she might be a preteen anyway, so there's an awful thought.

How are you navigating social media for your littles during this time of physical distance? If you have older kids, are there lessons you can share that might help us on this road?

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22 Apr 2020


By Mari Walker

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