Today’s teens have a reputation for being accomplished, fluent, and effective social media users. But they learn these skills the way we learn most life lessons: through trial and error, by making mistakes and learning from the outcomes. While these trial-and-error experiences can be educational in many contexts, social media makes trials public and errors difficult to erase. This means that early mistakes can easily come back to haunt those who make them. So how can kids build their social media power user skills?

Social media literacy education is key to helping kids learn to use these new technologies fluently and safely – letting them have fun without doing anything they might regret later. Some schools have helped to accelerate the learning process by providing digital literacy education in the classroom. Parents, too, can help prepare their kids for life online by modeling responsible communication and media use habits. But while kids learn some skills in the classroom and others from their parents, they’re often given “grown-up” social media accounts before they’re ready. Most of them don’t get a chance to practice these skills before they’re allowed into the wider world of social media.

Adding to parent and educator concerns, kids are beginning to use social media at even younger ages. While most apps request that users be 13 or older, it’s very easy to evade these age restrictions. This makes careful, supervised introductions to social media even more important. Facebook is beginning to target the under-13 set with the release of Messenger Kids, a version of its popular Messenger app that lets kids chat with a parent-approved set of contacts. As with every technology targeted at children, Messenger Kids has immediately earned both praise and condemnation from parents, researchers, consumer advocates, and others with stakes in the increasingly-intertwined worlds of parenting and technology.

– Natalie Bazarova

Read more: Building Kids Social Media User Skills

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