What is the appropriate age your child should be allowed to join social networking sites?
I think this is a similar question to when kids should be given a cell-phone. The answer I think is less of when and more of how. Because both are now pretty much essential technologies, I think it is appropriate that children are introduced to them pretty early (6th-8th grade perhaps), but that doesn't mean they are given without any guidelines or rules. A phone for instance might have limited minutes and have rules that they are never used during school or after a certain time at night.
For a social networking site, I would also have some time limit rules, and I would only allow then to join a network to which I also belonged and was friends with them, and I would make sure I knew the people they were adding as friends, and make sure their privacy settings are high.
Websites actually have legal age requirements when it comes to children and minimum ages to join. That should be one of your first considerations.
After that, it's going to depend on the nature of the child, their maturity level, and whether or not you as the parent are going to be responsible and stay involved so that they don't develop bad online habits or have something bad happen to them.
If I had a child under fourteen today, s/he wouldn't be on the Internet for anything but homework. If there were something like checking announcements from teachers or activities I'd let them do that. Fifteen/sixteen, and they'd be limits on how much time they spent on it. To me, seventeen is the age that would make me feel it was unreasonable to try to monitor their Internet use (event just time-wise). Even then, though, I'm not sure I'd have any Internet service on any kids' bedroom computer. I might instead have it to a computer in the main part of the house (or I might do something like put dial-up on a bedroom computer). I really think kids should at least be past high school. There's other things they should be doing at that age other than being on social network sites. At eighteen it's their business if they waste their time or don't manage it well. Besides, at eighteen they're that much more mature than, say, at sixteen.
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