For adults who came of age before the advent of the internet, social media can sometimes seem like a wondrous technology that offers tremendous benefits and almost no downside. It is all too easy to overlook the fact that children born after the rise of social media are confronted with choices and problems that their parents never had to face. As a result, these new communication outlets can be difficult for many children to manage in a safe and responsible way. Fortunately, there are a variety of things that parents can do to help young people navigate the potentially treacherous landscape of cyberspace.
First, however, it is important to understand the pitfalls you’re trying to help your children avoid. Most children fail to appreciate just how dangerous the internet can be – and not just from the standpoint of online predators and other obvious threats. Even seemingly harmless areas of the internet can sometimes mask serious risks that can harm children.
Many forms of social media are obviously useful tools for communication; nevertheless, with more than a billion regular users, they have been directly linked to depression and other psychiatric issues, as well as risk-takingbehaviors. One study even found that something as routine as regular texting and instant messaging can cause an increase in depressive symptoms, since it makes it easier for children to continue to dwell on various problems long after they might otherwise have resolved them.
Still, despite the risks, social media can offer children a great opportunity to strengthen interaction with friends and family, develop greater familiarity with technology, and gain exposure to new viewpoints. It can also help to make them more confident, and provide them with a place to vent frustrations – provided that they learn how to do so in an appropriate manner.
As a parent, here are some things you can do to help your child manage social media use in a safe and responsible manner:
- Develop rules for internet use, including guidelines for social media. Those rules should include expectations regarding the amount of time spent on social media sites, which sites are appropriate at any given age, and proper online etiquette.
- Come to an agreement regarding time management so that your child’s use of social media does not interfere with more important responsibilities such as homework or chores. Children often need their parents’ help striking the proper balance between those competing demands.
- Set ground rules for the type of information your children share with others online. Remind your children that their home address, phone numbers, and other personal information should never be shared in that environment, and stress that this rule is for their protection.
- Foster communication and transparency. Your child needs to feel confident that he or she can share social media experiences with you without having to worry about negative consequences. If you cut off those avenues of communication, your child may avoid telling you about cyber-bullying incidents or other inappropriate encounters.
- Always discuss social media adventures in a calm, rational manner. It’s difficult to avoid all negative situations, so try not to overreact. Remember, the idea is to encourage openness, and that can’t happen if you get overly emotional when your child occasionally exercises poor judgment online.
- Learn about privacy settings and filtering software that can help to provide a safer online environment for your child.
- Finally, lead by example. Make a point of regularly turning off your own phone, computer, and tablet, so that you can interact personally with your family and friends. That will help your child to maintain the proper perspective and remember that despite its many benefits, social media is still no substitute for actual in-person human interaction.
As a psychologist in Brooklyn, Jennifer Hope, Ph.D., understands just how difficult it can be for today’s children to learn to integrate complex technologies into their lives. If you’d like to hear more about the many things you can do to help your child manage social media use in a healthy and responsible manner, give her a call today.