Sunday 26 May 2019

Psychologist David Coleman: 'There is absolutely no reason why 11-year-olds need to be on Snapchat or engaged in online socialising of any kind'

There is absolutely no reason why pre-teens need to be engaged in online socialising of any kind.
There is absolutely no reason why pre-teens need to be engaged in online socialising of any kind.
Girls using social media
David Coleman

David Coleman

Clinical psychologist David Coleman on why parents should be wary about allowing their children to have Snapchat.

Question: My daughter keeps asking can she get Snapchat on her iPod. She has just turned 11 and says that she's the only one in her class that doesn't have it (which is not the case). However, all her close friends have it and they keep asking her when she will get it too.

I'm just wary of giving in and letting her have it. I suppose my main problem with it is that I think she's too young to have access to social media.

My dilemma, though, is that I don't want her to feel left out either. What do you think about her having Snapchat at her age?


David replies: I think it is a really bad idea for her to get Snapchat. In fact, it is a really bad idea for her friends to have it too. There seems to be a cohort of parents who don't really think too much about the implications of their actions.

Letting their pre-teens slip into the world of social media, seems, to me, to be an example of careless parenting. Even with teenagers we need to be very conscious and thought-through in our decisions to allow them access to social media.

But with the pre-teens, there is absolutely no reason why they need to be engaged in online socialising of any kind.

Of course, if every parent said "no" definitively, and didn't cave in to the moans and whinges of their child regarding social media or internet access, we'd have no issue with pre-teens making demands for phones, Snapchat, Facebook messenger, WhatsApp and the rest.


The slide happens early, though. When you have parents giving their toddlers the use of phones or tablets to watch cartoons, YouTube clips and so on, to keep them occupied, it is no wonder that those same children are the precocious social media users at age eight, nine, 10 or 11.

Parents need to be more thoughtful about engaging their young children rather than relying on a digital babysitter. When children are bored, they become creative. Boredom can be a good thing - we don't have to fill their every waking minute with some activity or distraction.

I believe that parents need a little more backbone. Your query is a good example of the dilemma that so many parents face, and of the uncertainty that many feel.

You have a clear opinion that you think your daughter is too young for Snapchat, and yet you are second-guessing yourself in case you do her some harm by being firm and authoritative about that opinion.

If you know what you think is best for your child, then go with your gut. Who cares what her friends are doing? What they do is the responsibility of their parents (at this age). What your daughter does is your responsibility.

If her friends are real friends then the strength of their relationship should be able to withstand the lack of a digital means of staying in touch.

Out of interest, I posed your dilemma to those folks that follow me on Facebook. In the space of about two hours, over 300 people had responded to say an overwhelming "No!" to the notion of giving an 11-year-old access to social media of any kind, and Snapchat in particular.

Read more: The complete parents' guide to social networking and gaming apps

The fact that Snapchat involves taking a picture, usually a selfie of some kind, and adding some text, makes it an attractive way for youngsters to communicate. In theory, the picture erases itself after a number of seconds, but in practice, the image can be screenshot if the recipient wants to keep the photo.

Teenagers use Snapchat to send naked pictures, or sexually suggestive pictures, of themselves to a friend, alongside the more innocent selfies and quick updates/chats.

Read more: Are parents fighting a losing battle with the internet?

Some youngsters can feel under huge pressure to share these kinds of snaps, despite the fact that once they are shared, they are around, somewhere in cyberspace, forever, with the potential to be harmfully shared further.

Young children need to socialise face-to-face, not online.

Don't let your daughter's potential disappointment dissuade you from your own core view that she is just too young. She is just too young.

Let her wait until she is 13, or in secondary school. Then you can start the process of guiding her and supporting her in her social media world, but not until then.

Our daughter wants to make her Communion next year, but we are staunch non-believers. Help!

Q. Our seven-year-old daughter is not baptised, but goes to a Catholic school. We are not believers. The multi-denominational schools were oversubscribed when she started school so we put her into the Catholic school. We find that she talks about God, Jesus, says prayers and talks about Mass. She has already pleaded to make her Holy Communion with the rest of the class next year, but we are saying "no". Are we being selfish by not baptising her, even though that may make it hard for her to fit in? How can we help her live with our choices for her?

David replies: I could easily imagine that you are not alone in your struggle with balancing your own religious beliefs (or non-beliefs) with the religious beliefs that your child is learning in school.

I take it from your query that you would have much preferred a multi-denominational school, where no particular doctrine is taught. The choices we have to make, sometimes, as parents, are hard.

I wonder why you settled on a Catholic-ethos school as your second best? Is Catholicism the religion that you yourself have moved away from, or were you brought up with no particular religious faith?

How much influence did your school, and/or your parents, play in your decisions not to believe in a religious doctrine?

I ask these questions because I think the answers may guide you in your decisions in relation to your daughter.

If it is the case that you were brought up with a religious influence from your family and school that you later chose to question and reject, then you could feel confident to let your daughter make similar choices in due course. In other words, while school and family influences may be very significant when we are young, they don't have to be defining throughout our lives.

Just like you, your daughter may be able to absorb the Catholic ethos while she is a young child, even consciously joining the Catholic faith in order to make her Communion, and still, as she gets older, choose to question it and reject it.

However, I would imagine that if you and your husband's non-belief is because you were brought up that way, then you may find it more difficult to accept that your daughter may be absorbing a faith that you have never agreed with.

Perhaps you don't want to seem hypocritical by endorsing beliefs and doctrines that she is learning in school, which you don't agree with. But then, the responsibility to ensure that there is harmony between beliefs at home and school is yours.

By your choice of school, you have actually given her a mixed message. On the one hand, you don't believe in the Catholic teachings, but by sending her to a Catholic school, you are still endorsing those teachings.

I am all in favour of children fitting in, primarily, with the religious (or non-religious) views and beliefs of their parents. It is right that their parents most heavily influence children's perspectives.

But, as parents, we must then ensure that, as much as possible, the other influential environments that our children grow in, namely schools, also fit, or are congruent, with what we believe (or don't believe).

At her age, she is unlikely to have the capacity to challenge either your views or the school's views, and so it would be much easier for her if she had just one value and belief system to come to terms with.

I think, therefore, that you either need to let her conform fully to the religious doctrine of her school, even if it doesn't fit for you, confident in the knowledge that she will question it appropriately as she gets older, or you need to remove the pressure of that doctrine so that yours is the only belief system that she is exposed to.

If you truly hold to your own beliefs (or really can't accept the Catholic beliefs), then it would seem better for you to take her out of the Catholic school, home educate her temporarily if needs be, and then place her in a multi-denominational school when a place becomes available.

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