One of the biggest challenges in modern parenting is raising children in the digital era. With all the warnings and news stories about social media, what’s the best course forward? How do I protect my children from undesirable influences or cyberbullying as a parent? What about social media’s impact on youth mental health? How do I keep my child safe while ensuring that they develop all the skills and competencies needed to keep up with 21st Century competencies?
What is social media?
Social media are interactive technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas, interests, and other forms of expression through virtual communities and networks. YouTube and other media sites are also social media sites, even if they are kid-friendly, this is especially true if your child “follows” channels or influencers.
Impact on Child Development
There is a lot of research on screen time and media exposure on brain development and social-emotional learning. The results are mixed, some authors link social media exposure to increased mental health concerns (anxiety, depression, increased irritability, addictive behaviors, low self-esteem) and others to increased communication and social skills. Social media can also provide a diversity of voices and representation to help youths build confidence by connecting with like-minded people. Although there are no definitive conclusions, there are clear recommendations on ways to increase safety and mitigate risks.
Limit screen time and ensure that this is balanced with real-life activities. It’s important for children to move their bodies and spend time in natural settings. Play, crafts, and sports are all great opportunities to build gross and fine motor skills, get creative, improve their visuospatial ability, problem solve, learn conflict resolution skills, improve communication and increase social engagement.
Remain engaged and active in your children’s social media life. It is important to develop clear rules and expectations about online behaviors.
- Write up social media use agreements, times when it’s okay to get on, how much screen time per day, and what are the consequences of breaking these agreements. Post these agreements in a visible location and keep them up to date.
Maintain open dialogue. Whether good or bad, children are definitely impacted by their social media use, make sure that you are regularly checking in with them about their online experiences.
- What attracts them to this site? Who’s influencing this interest? How do they feel before and after being on screen?
- Openly discuss the values and belief systems of your households, how are these online experiences supporting or challenging these values?
- Discuss topics regularly encountered online- how to make and maintain positive social encounters and when to stop talking with someone or let an adult know. What information is ok to share online? How much money is ok to spend on games/ additional features?
It is important to remember that children are not born with executive functioning skills, insight, good judgment, and critical thinking skills. These are all skills and abilities we develop through life, hopefully, while supported by a safe and consistent parental system, but definitely through life experiences and mistakes. This also applies to social media, children will make mistakes and demonstrate poor judgment. What’s important to remember is as a parent, your role is to identify hazards, minimize risks and provide them with life lessons so that they are able to develop these skills and abilities. Remember you are not alone in this, there are numerous resources (blogs, books, podcasts) to help you navigate this maelstrom. Treehouse is always happy to link you to some of these, don’t hesitate to ask.