Youth and Social Media
Kids today are joining, or seeking to join, social media at younger and younger ages. However, there are many challenges and dangers associated with kids utilizing social media, and parents need to consider how they will proceed carefully.
Arguments can be made for waiting until your child is in high school or “mature,” and your child’s maturity is something you should certainly consider. However, if you consider allowing your child to have access to social media, there are some benefits to doing so in middle school.
Dave Anderson, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, encourages parents to think about allowing their children to have access to social media in middle school. This enables parents to set up healthy and appropriate boundaries and monitor their child’s social media usage and activity. If you wait until they are in high school, they are not likely to allow you to monitor them, and you will lose out on knowing what they are doing. It’s much better
to have them start sooner and agree and adapt to your rules than have them create secret accounts you know nothing about.
No matter how old your child is when you decide to move forward with letting them have social media accounts, it is important to prepare them for it and put guidelines in place. Make sure your child knows what you consider to be acceptable and what is unacceptable. You don’t want to leave them to figure it out on their own, no matter how mature your child is. One way is to show them examples by scrolling through their friends’ social media accounts. Then you have concrete examples you can point to and say, “This is fine” or “This is not fine.”
Another important area to consider is helping your child know how to lead a balanced life. Just as you don’t want them to spend all of their time on video games, you don’t want them to spend all of their time on social media. Make sure they have plenty of in-person contact with friends and family, engaging in activities that allow for physical activities and homework. They need to know not only what is or isn’t appropriate to post but also when it’s time to take a break from social media and do other activities.
Parents also need to determine what rules they will have regarding what their child can post on social media. For example, you might tell them they can’t post anything they wouldn’t be willing to say to someone standing right in front of them. They shouldn’t bully a classmate standing next to them or engage in cyberbullying online. Other parents have set up a rule that no “selfies” are allowed because of the impact on a child’s self-esteem and the invitation for others to judge them in a variety of ways. Posting selfies also creates another
danger due to the rise in predators using social media to try to find victims (which is perhaps a topic for another time). Kids also need to know what kind of information is safe or unsafe to share online. For example, you don’t want them sharing information about where they live, their family’s schedule, or other details that can put them at risk.
Once parents know what kind of boundaries they want to put in place, they also need to outline clear consequences for violating those boundaries. Once you decide on the rules and consequences, you need to make sure you stay consistent and follow through.
Many social media platforms have also created parental control settings, so it is important to look into that before you start this conversation with your child. Some are more secure and allow for creating more control than others, so it’s important to know what each platform will allow you to monitor and control. There are also tools that allow you to limit screen time use (Screen Time), prevent access to categories of sites, or send a notification if the child has
concerning activity such as looking at harmful content (Bark).
Social media platforms curate content in order to show the user more content that is like what they are currently looking at or have entered searches for. It can be hard for them to recognize that they are only seeing the “perfect” images others want to show them and instead fall into the trap of thinking that person’s life is so amazing, or they are so happy, thin, in a perfect relationship, etc. Even if they know that the person spends half their day at school crying, it’s hard for them to not be drawn into the images and think they are the only one whose life isn’t perfect.
As a result, parents need to be diligent about staying involved in their children’s lives and having conversations with them. This is not just a one-time conversation before they get started, but an ongoing dialogue with them. Keep your relationship with your child strong and healthy; talk to them about their feelings and what is going on in their lives. Be a healthy role model by
modeling for them the behavior you want to see. Take social media breaks together.
At the end of the day, you know your child's strengths, weaknesses, and what support they need to succeed. Have a plan when engaging in this conversation, but also seek to engage them and get buy-in to your plan so that you can navigate their social media experiences together.