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Freaking out About My Kid & Social Media

Photograph by Getty Images

What’s a mom to do when she sees her 10-year-old son about to take a selfie of his bare chest? Freak out? Well, that’s what I did. After I calmed down, however, I had a talk with my son.

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I don’t think of myself as a prude, but social media concerns me when it comes to kids. They accept requests from people they don’t know. They see pictures of anatomy they shouldn't see, and by people they don’t know. We did not grow up with these options as easily available as a swipe on our phone, so what’s a parent to do when he or she wants to protect their kids as long as possible? In my opinion, everything we can.

Maybe you’re one of those parents who think online games, selfies and chatting are all harmless. While I have some friends who feel that way, I know that what’s harmless at 9 or 10 doesn’t stay that way once you've got a teen. While one friend’s daughter is posting sweet, innocent pictures on Instagram of flowers and birds, another friend’s daughter—who’s just a few years older—is posting pictures of herself in a bikini. They’re harmless pictures, as is, but who knows who she’s sharing these photos with and where they will ultimately end up.

We were just lucky that we didn't have social media when we were kids so our foolish mistakes didn't last forever.

The better solution is to control what your child has access to at a young age. Try getting your kids to give up a certain type of social media after they have been using it for years. It’s much easier to restrict the games and apps that can get them into danger before they start using them. Hopefully, when he's old enough to use photo apps, he understands the implications of what he's sharing.

When my son and I did finally talk about the “selfie incident,” I explained how glad I was he didn’t do that on Instagram. Even he realized that just because you delete a picture, it doesn’t mean it’s gone. It was also comforting for him to know that mom and dad made mistakes when we were young as well. We were just lucky that we didn't have social media when we were kids so our foolish mistakes didn't last forever. I reminded him that someday he’s going to be applying for college and for jobs, and start dating. Is a bare-chested selfie really the image that he wants out there?

With that in mind, I outlined some more rules for his online behavior:

1. Don’t give out personal information.

2. Don’t chat with people he doesn’t know.

3. And just because someone says he's a kid, it doesn’t mean he is.

RELATED: Why I Deleted My Daughter's Internet Account

I know we can’t put our kids in a bubble, but we can help them learn what can happen if they’re not careful with social media. Will my son always keep his promise not to post chest selfies? Who knows. But I’m hoping by having these conversations now I’m helping him realize the consequences of his actions, and he'll be careful at every age.

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