Social media can be a great resource for kids to connect to the world around them.
It can increase their creativity by allowing them to make music and podcasts, share art, improve their health, and find and converse with like-minded people and groups.
But social media has its downside.
Without the proper privacy settings, restrictions and parental monitoring, children have the ability to access whoever and whatever they want. They also can leave behind a permanent record of their whereabouts, photos, posts and more that potential employers or universities can find.
Online shaming and bullying take many forms on the internet, and children and teens can feel the effects very strongly. In some cases, cyber harassment and excessive use can lead to stress-related disorders like anxiety and depression.
So, how are parents supposed to keep their kids safe in a world where nearly everything is online? Try to think about it like teaching teens how to drive responsibly.
Since social media doesn’t come with a standard user’s guide and its so-called “rules” are complicated (to say the least), here are some helpful tips for parents when deciding to integrate social media into their child’s life:
Learn the language. Educate yourself on the terms being used frequently by your children and their peers. If you know what the words and abbreviations mean ("DMing," for example, is sending someone a private message on social media), you’re better equipped to know what exactly your child is doing online.
Issue a learner’s permit. You wouldn’t allow your child to start driving without any experience or knowledge of the rules of the road, right? Social media should be approached in the same fashion. There should be certain restrictions in the beginning, including limits on screen time and access to certain sites/devices and passwords. When they prove they’re responsible, they earn more freedom, access and independence.
Teach safety. Remind your children that online friends can still be strangers. Children, especially younger ones, should never be allowed to meet an internet “friend” for the first time in person, alone. If your child begins talking about an online friend, it may be beneficial to follow along to make sure the relationship is appropriate and your child isn’t in danger.
Read the fine print. There are numerous apps, devices and privacy settings. Not all will be appropriate for your child. It’s important to read the information provided by the app store and service provider, monitor use and slowly add more access, when appropriate.
Do it together. Communicate with your children about how they are using social media. Ask questions about games they enjoy, people they talk to, sites they frequent, or channels they follow. Better yet, sit down with them and visit these sites together.
Be a good role model. How often are you on your phone/tablet? Do you check Facebook at the dinner table or in the middle of a conversation? Children take cues from their parents, even when it comes to social media practices. Model how to use social media appropriately.
Let’s face it. Children will slip up while using social media. A parent’s normal reaction would be to remove access completely. However, this limits a child’s ability to learn from his or her mistakes. If you find yourself having to consistently set social media limits with your child, it may be time to close his or her accounts for a while. In some cases, professional behavioral health intervention may be needed.
It’s in a parent’s best interest to help their children navigate all aspects of social media, including the good, the bad and the ugly. When in doubt, trust your parenting skills and remember it’s all about communication, supervision, consistency and consequences.
If your child is experiencing negative emotions from their social media use or is being cyberbullied, call 904.376.3800 to learn more about Wolfson Children's Behavioral Health. If you need to speak with someone immediately, call the Wolfson Children's 24/7 Kids & Teens Helpline at 904.202.7900 or text LIFE to 741741.