With the rise of smartphones, laptops, and tablets in the hands of tweens and teens, it’s important for parents to be aware of best practices surrounding social media use and their kids. While the internet can be a great resource, it can also be a metaphorical mine-field of misinformation and hidden dangers.
Understanding the Risks
Adolescents can be psychologically affected in a number of ways when practicing unsafe behaviors online. According to mental health counselor Katie Lear, “Access to a smartphone comes with serious risks for teens and tweens. Research shows that half of teens are cyber bullied and one third of teen girls are sexually harassed online. Totally unsupervised smart phone use can expose teens and preteens to adult situations that put them at risk of being manipulated or abused. While many teens will never come into contact with a predator online, for those who do the effects can be very damaging.”
Young people may partake in risky behavior for many reasons, but a common occurrence is fear of
missing out (also called FOMO) which can lead to feelings of shame or acts of exaggeration, according to internetmatters.org. With still developing minds, if kids encounter harmful or threatening things online they may not know how to cope or handle the situation. This could lead them to engage in or feel pressure to engage in more risky behavior by accident or by design.
Creating online profiles can also lead to developing unrealistic and perhaps depressing ideals of body image and gender. Teens can become subjected to peer pressure or interactions that are intense or too difficult to handle, and may fall into uncomfortable situations that work their way into everyday life.
Dangers associated with online activity include:
- Seeing or sharing of violent, sexual, and pornographic content
- Experiencing inaccurate or false information and extreme views
- Oversharing personal information
- Actively or unintentionally getting involved in bullying or hurtful behavior
- Becoming involved with people who have hidden harmful intentions
The Importance of an Open Dialogue
According to KidsHealth from Nemours, it’s crucial to be aware of what your kids do online—and there’s a healthy and balanced way to go about it. Instead of succumbing to snooping, which can alienate and damage trust, you can create an open dialogue between your kids about boundaries and safe social media practices. To start, have understanding conversations about the risks and educate your kids early about how they can safeguard themselves against online dangers.
What parents can do to safeguard their kids:
- Use privacy settings on all internet connected devices.
- Frequently check privacy settings on social media platforms, as periodically they may change to allow voice recording or location tracking.
- Have open conversations about online risks.
- Make it clear that you expect your kids to treat others with respect, and to never post hurtful or embarrassing messages.
- Teach kids not to share anything on social media that they wouldn’t want their family, teachers, college admissions officers, or future bosses to see.
- Remind kids to avoid “friending” or talking to online strangers. If they don’t know them, don’t interact with them.
- Reinforce that your kids must never share passwords or personal information online.
- Make sure teens have a variety of free-time activities, like spending time with friends and playing sports, which can help them develop a healthy body and mind.
- Turn off all screens during family meals and at bedtime.
- Keep the computer in a common area where you can watch what’s going on.
The nonprofit Enough Is Enough offers their “Internet Safety 101” guidelines to help parents navigate this uneasy path. Their resource, Rules ‘N Tools Youth Pledge offers a great roadmap to follow with your kids to be sure they understand all the dangers facing them online.
Setting Healthy Screen Time Limits
With the recent shift towards online learning and social media-based communication, it’s important for parents to be aware of what too much screen time can do and how to set screen time limits. These restrictions can create balance in your kid’s lives and help prevent screen addiction as well. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends kids and teens between 5 and 18 years old have consistent limits on the use of any media.
According to Dr. Rahul Bhola, pediatric ophthalmologist at CHOC Children’s, one of the biggest health issues related to smart devices are vision related. A recent study by the National Eye Institute found that near-sightedness has jumped exponentially in Americans over the last few decades. Two clear reasons for this are an increased amount of time spent looking at things up close and a lack of outdoor activities.
The AAP recently revised the recommendations for screen time in childhood:
- 18 months and younger: no screen time is still best. The exception is live video chat with family and friends.
- 18 months to 2 years: limit screen time and avoid solo use. Choose high-quality programming, and watch with kids to ensure understanding.
- 2 to 5 years: limit screen time to an hour a day. Parents should watch as well to ensure understanding and application to their world.
- 6 or older: place consistent limits on the time spent and types of media. Don’t let screen time affect sleep, exercise, or other behaviors.
- Restrict entertainment-related screen time to two hours or less a day.
- Practice the 20-20-20 rule: After every 20 minutes of screen time, take a 20-second break and look 20 feet away.
The Bright Side of Social Media
The internet isn’t all bad news though. It can be a great place for adolescents to stay connected with their friends, participate in activism, and educate themselves on a myriad of important topics.
It can be a great place for adolescents to stay connected with friends, participate in activism, and educate themselves.
During the current social distancing guidelines, social media is a place where tweens and teens can communicate with their peers and family about school work, life, and more. Isolation and loneliness can be just as damaging as the dangers posed online, and having teens maintain their friendships through social media can prevent those feelings from taking hold.
Social media offers a place for tweens and teens to connect about social activism and allows them to participate in social movements. The ability to participate in social justice and human rights causes virtually allows them to not only take action, but also encourage others to as well.
Additionally, the internet can be an excellent educational tool for tweens and teens with proper guidance. Not only is all of this information at their fingertips, it comes in a variety of forms that allow for easy learning and access, including posts and shared content on social platforms.
Overall, parents should be cognizant of what their children are doing on social media and the internet. Screen time should be monitored and parents need to have open conversations with their children about the risks and dangers of online activities. Social media and the internet are great tools for connecting with friends and family and can be used to the benefit of tweens and teens. It’s up to parents to help safeguard their children and monitor proper use.