In my last two posts, we discussed the prevalence of social media use amongst today’s teens and how parents can recognize the warning signs of excessive or unhealthy use. It’s simply a fact of modern life that teens — and tweens — are using more digital technology, and this trend isn’t likely to diminish anytime soon. Though platforms such as social media and texting offer a number of benefits when used appropriately, some teens may engage in unhealthy use.
From sexting to cyberbullying, online predators to addictive use, here’s a parent guide to help both prevent unhealthy social media use and protect your children when they’re online.
Parental awareness is essential to ensuring that your child’s social media use remains healthy and appropriate. Educate yourself about the different types of social media out there, and especially as to which ones your child is involved with.
The best way to learn about these technologies is first hand; creating your own social media accounts and profiles allows you to thoroughly understand both the platform itself, as well as how it can be used. When you have your own accounts, you can “friend” your child, thus allowing you to monitor their online activity.
Teach your children about the importance of maintaining online privacy. Many teens may not fully understand how important it is to keep personal details such as addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers, photos and even personal communications private. Not only can unscrupulous individuals use personal information to commit identity theft, many sexual predators lurk online and take advantage of unsuspecting youth.
Along with keeping personal information private for safety’s sake, help your child understand that once they post something online, whether a photo or written text, it’s almost impossible to “take it back” or control its spread, even if online privacy settings are set to “high.” Compromising pictures or language may be viewed by school administrators, law enforcement officials, college admissions departments, and potential employers. As a general rule, teach kids that they should only post something that they are comfortable with everyone seeing.
Above all, keep the lines of communication open. Talk to your kids about social media use — not just the potential dangers, but the potential benefits, too. A study by the California Adolescent Health Collaborative found that teens whose parents talked to them “a lot” about social media tended to have a greater concern with online privacy and be less likely to:
• Share personal information and photos
• Have a public profile
• Talk to or meet with people they only know online.
In additional to opening the lines of communication, parents can take specific actions to limit unhealthy social media usage. These include:
• Keeping computers in public parts of the home, rather than in kids’ bedrooms
• Requiring that your child “friend” you on any social media sites they use
• Setting time limits for computer and cell phone use
• Checking your child’s phone records and computer history regularly
• Treating social media use or online gaming as a privilege to be earned
• Encouraging your child to engage in other, non-screen-related activities
• Acting as role models of responsible social media use
Every parent wants their child to use social media appropriately and safely, but sometimes making that goal a reality poses a real challenge. That’s where professional help can make the difference. Dr. Steven Lazarus, a teen psychologist in Littleton, can help your family work through these issues together.
Please See Previous Blogs on this topic