Like it or not, social media is an important part of kids’ lives. By the time they are teenagers, 95% of kids have used it. Forty-five percent of teens admit to checking in “almost constantly.” Almost half have been victims of online bullying, so parents must protect kids on social media.
It’s no wonder that parents have understandable concerns. Children spend increasing amounts of time in a virtual world that can be unkind. They can define their worth by the perceived acceptance (or rejection) from their peers. Increasingly, those judgments are digital. Because it’s easy to “like” or mock someone with the touch of a button, kids face daunting amounts of painful scrutiny.
Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to shield kids from this new reality. Schools, organizations, friends and loved ones are all on social media. Colleges and workplaces expect technological savvy. “Kids must learn to navigate the digital world safely and productively or risk being left behind,” says Yalda Uhlrs, author of Media Moms and Digital Dads.
While there are admittedly legitimate reasons to use social media, experts warn of potential dangers. A recent study out of the UK examined the data of 10,000 teens. It found a significant correlation between heavy social media usage and depression. Researchers cited sleep disturbances, digital harassment, lowered self-esteem and poor body image as possible contributing factors. This is not surprising, considering social media’s addictive and unrealistic nature. Unattainable beauty standards and fictional lifestyles are causes for concern, especially since girls had higher rates of depression than boys.
Here are tips to help protect your kids:
1) Follow Guidelines: Some legislation and directives already exist. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act prohibits collecting information from users under 13. So most apps require age acknowledgment. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents monitor and limit kids’ social media usage. There’s no need to feel out of line for wanting to keep your children safe.
2) Embrace Involvement: Despite concerns, many parents take a passive approach to social media. Some don’t use parental controls and or discuss what is appropriate. But experts insist that kids do not have the self-awareness or the discipline to know what is healthy and safe. That’s why they encourage parents to enforce well-defined rules. Consider requiring your young children to get your permission to download apps and then provide passwords. Unfortunately, this strategy may not work for teens, who can sneak around the rules. Rather than allow deception to erode trust, many specialists recommend a compromise. Jonathan McKee, the author of The Teen’s Guide to Social Media and Mobile Devices: 21 Tips to Wise Posting in an Insecure World, suggests “an environment of fair rules, open communication and no secrets.”
3) Privacy: Make sure that young children have private accounts. Grant access only to friends and family. Teach older kids to be highly selective with interaction. Navigating an online presence is difficult enough without criticism and bullying from strangers or unkind acquaintances.
4) Addiction: Social media is sneaky. Kids who don’t want to miss anything can quickly become addicted. Since they’re juggling screen time with everyday obligations, watch for signs of sleep deprivation. Try a timer or an app that shows concrete proof of excessive use and require a shut down once limits are reached. Although they may resist, many kids find relief in the freedom of reasonable usage.
5) Showing (Or Telling) Too Much: Children can feel pressured to post mature, revealing, or inappropriate content. Urge them not to compromise what they know is right to fit in. Stress that oversharing can portray insecurity rather than confidence. There is no such thing as a permanent deletion. Even if they remove a post or photo, screenshots or caching means it still exists somewhere.
6) Limit Hurtful Content: Whether kids are senders or receivers of negative messages, they still hurt. Remind kids to think before they post or react. Encourage them to use an apps’ tools to delete hurtful comments and then to block those who leave them. It’s important to limit the repetitive negative exposure that causes depression or low self-esteem.
7) Park Electronics Overnight: Many kids get lured into checking their texts or social media into the wee hours. This can affect well-being, performance and health. Require that powered-down electronics remain in the kitchen so that everyone can get a good night’s sleep.
8) Busy Them With Alternate Activities: One can’t abuse social media while taking part in sports, music or volunteering. And kids deeply connected to their parents are less likely to seek validation online. Watch for old-school opportunities to build a powerful connection. Bond over activities like cooking, fishing or crafts where electronics don’t mix. Have strict rules that family time is technology-free.
APPS TO HELP KEEP KIDS SAFE
BARK: This app offers parental monitoring of texts, browsing and social media platforms. Parent receive alerts if the app’s algorithms detect signs of profanity, sexting, cyberbullying, depression, violence, self-harm or suicidal thoughts.
DINNER TIME PLUS: Parents can lock down kids’ devices at dinner, at bedtime for homework or any time kids need a break. You can also receive alerts for unusual activity on any device.
BINKY: This app gives one the thrill of social media without the stress. You scroll “binks,” (feeds with random photos and information) and can comment, share or “like” them. However, the app is private and there’s no record of any interaction. Binks cover a wide variety of topics. You might see llamas, tennis shoes or Amelia Earhart. Content is always positive and appropriate.