I am preparing to give a talk at an upcoming pediatrics conference in October about social media and children. There is definitely a growing body of general guidance to pediatricians that suggests we talk to families about:
- Limiting TV to less than 2 hours a day for children and no TV for kids under 2 years of age
- Have discussions about social media and set limits
- Monitor kids’ usage and keep computers in public spaces
- Keep kids’ smart phones/cell phones out of bedrooms at night
- Be mindful about cyberbullying and sexting because kids are easy targets
- Set up media use agreements
There are clear benefits to social media use if used in moderation with proper parental supervision and an eye towards child development. Read 5 Reasons You Don’t Need to Worry About Kids and Social Media.
However, because social media is constantly changing and we are raising a generation of children who are exposed to this digital technology as early as 9 months, we must remain constantly vigilant about what our kids are doing…not just at home and school but now also in cyberspace.
For the most up-to-date statistics on the trends of smart phone use, social media and teens, check out the 2015 report by the Pew Research Center.
Here are some of my TAKE HOME POINTS about this.
- Kids are increasingly using smartphones and tablets for internet access. These mobile devices make it easy to connect online to everyone and anyone from anywhere. Technology is a PRIVILEGE and not a right. Just because other kids have smart phones does not mean your child needs one right now. You, as the parent, has the right to establish the “right” time for getting your child a phone/tablet. Families have various reasons for providing their child with internet access. Make sure you think through when the time is right and when it is needed. Once the need to give a child access to a smart phone/cell phone/tablet/internet is established, make sure to talk about what is responsible behavior online and privacy.
- Even though a child may not have their own smart phone/tablet to access the internet, kids have opportunities to use the internet at school, at the library and with friends. Have open discussions about digital citizenship early and often. Common Sense Media has an awesome family toolbox (in English and Spanish) with resources to use when talking with your children. Talk to your child’s school, especially as districts begin to provide this technology for students. Opportunities to see content that is not developmentally appropriate are more likely to happen especially if not filtered or monitored. Make sure you check with your child’s school to find out their policy and what they are doing to monitor student usage in and out of the classroom, especially if the device is able to leave school grounds. Check out The Four Negative Side Effects of Technology…as a starting point.
- Check out apps and websites first to see whether you want your child accessing or using the particular site or app. Asking your child to show you the ins and outs of a particular app can be a helpful way to start the conversation. Showing interest in what your child and/or his or her friends’ are interested in can help.
- Keep a book of passwords for websites and apps. Parents and kids alike can keep their passwords for social media sites in a shared place to show that everyone in the family abides by the same rules. Consider consequences if passwords are changed without parental knowledge.
- Talk with your child about your expectations and ground rules when accessing the internet. What we put out there lives on FOREVER. It cannot be erased and it can be passed on by others out there easily and freely. Teach your child to think before posting. If your child gets embarrassed or is reluctant to show you a post or photo on social media, take that as a red flag. Tell your child that if he or she cannot share the comment or photo in a room of adults, then it should not be shared online.
- Make sure to gauge your child’s interest in posting (“why do you like posting selfies?” “What makes for a good selfie?” “What do you hope happens once you share your selfie/post/comment?”). Establish expectations to have open discussions as you monitor posts or pictures your child shares online.
- Be wary about apps that masquerade as calculators. There are apps out there meant to hide pictures, texts and other personal information in plain sight.
- NEVER SHARE PERSONAL INFORMATION ON THE INTERNET. Never arrange to meet someone you “meet” online.
- Facebook Depression, teen suicide, sexting and cyberbullying are real risks. A parent can help their children filter and understand content that they are exposed to. Get started early with open and frequent discussions about privacy, not sharing passwords, how to think about others’ feelings and what to do if they see someone getting bullied or threatened online.
I developed a simple handout to use when counseling parents about social media usage and navigating this vast terrain. It is ideally used when introducing the topic of social media to parents. And since kids are exposed to social media earlier and earlier, there is no limit as to how often to discuss this or when to discuss it. You can bring it up at every visit You can bring it up if you notice a parent modeling smart phone use in the exam room. You can bring it up if the child is using technology at the appointment.
What to Know: Kids + Social Media (English only)
See my previous post, “5 Tips for Parenting in a Tech-driven World” for more chatter about this topic.
- Healthy Children.org : Talking to Kids and Tweens about Social Media
- American Academy of Pediatrics SafetyNet: an online resource of reputable resources to help you keep your child safe online
- The Ultimate Parent Guide for Protecting Your Child On the Internet (VPNMentor.com)
- A Guide to Protecting Your Children’s Privacy Online (bestVPNrating.com)
- Online Teen Safety Guide (Staysafe.org)