Social media is no longer just an exciting outlet for people of all ages; it has become an ingrained, accepted part of daily life in modern society. As a result, young children and teens are spending more time online than ever before. Under-age social media use is on the rise, and as more studies are conducted on the long-term effects of social media, parents are increasingly encouraged to monitor their children's engagement.
Before going any further, it's important to acknowledge that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social media platforms aren't all bad. In fact, they can be used in educational ways or provide methods of communication between long-distance friends.
However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has found that excessive social media use can lead to problems. Instances of online bullying and low-self esteem are all too common amongst reports from child psychologists, and that's not even addressing the threat of online predators and exploitation.
This isn't to say that you should panic if your young teen spends a fair share of their time scrolling through their feeds. As Dr. Gweenn O'Keefe from the AAP said, "Parents need to understand how their child is using social media so that they can set appropriate limits." Think less about restricting your children and more about setting safe boundaries.
To help you establish these limits, the AAP has come up with some tactics for fostering a healthy relationship with social media in your household. These tips will encourage safe online practices and decrease the risk of addiction or misuse.
- Actually talk to your kids about their social media accounts. An open conversation will discourage your children from keeping secrets and help educate them on the dangers of the internet. In today's world, pretty much every preteen is going to sign up for a handful of social media accounts, so it's better to be honest about the risks and benefits of these platforms than it is to ban their use altogether. Let your kids know that they should report any bullying, sexting or other kinds of inappropriate content online.
- Help your kids and teens select their privacy settings. It might seem simple to keep an Instagram account or Facebook profile limited to "just friends," but setting privacy limits is often more complicated than it seems. Double-check with your kids to make sure that their accounts are only visible to people they know and trust, and have a talk with them about the effects their social media profiles can have on their futures. Remind them that schools, potential employers and strangers can stumble across their profiles, regardless of their privacy settings, so they should always post with caution.
- Pay attention to what apps and sites your children are visiting. A mistake many parents make is failing to stay up to date with the newest trends in technology. How can you monitor your child's use if you have no idea what they're doing online? Talk to them about the sites they frequent and research any platforms that seem concerning. When it comes to protecting your children online, knowledge is power.
- Don't assume that online monitoring software is effective. Installing a monitoring app on your kid's computer or cell phone isn't a bad idea, but leaving the safety of your child to software is. Every product has loopholes, and chances are, your child or the people who wish to harm them will find those holes. That's why it's important to have real conversations with your children instead of just leaving the job to a piece of technology.
- Talk about healthy time constraints on social media usage. According to Dr. O'Keefe, "Some young people find the lure of social media difficult to resist, which can interfere with homework, sleep and physical activity." She encourages parents to set appropriate limits so that overuse doesn't negatively impact your child's mental and physical health.
"A large part of this generation’s social and emotional development is occurring while on the Internet and on a cell phone," Dr. O'Keefe reminds us. "Parents need to understand these technologies so they can relate to their children’s online world – and comfortably parent in that world."
To learn more about how social media affects children and adolescents, check out this study on the AAP website. If you have tips or tricks for dealing with social media, leave them in the comments below.