Thanks to technology, parenting has become a lot more complicated these days. One especially tricky challenge is how to navigate social media – especially with younger teenagers, or tweens. Teenagers’ use of social media is on the rise. Common Sense Media found that 75 percent of American teenagers have a social media profile.
Studies done on the impact of social media on teenagers have shown that it tends to have more negative impacts than positive. In fact, pediatric practices have seen an increase in mental and emotional challenges in our teenage patients. From cyberbullying to body image issues, social media clearly has a strong impact on teens.
This isn’t an issue that will go away any time soon, so how should parents handle their kids’ social media use? Here are answers to some key questions parents ask.
Social media can have some serious negative impacts on mental health. Too much social media time can cause:
- Lowered self-esteem
- Poor body image
In addition, it can become almost addictive. That coupled with the fact that their developing brains have trouble self-regulating their social media time can lead to sleep deprivation and even deeper mental health issues.
Cyberbullying is another huge danger of social media. Not only can it lead to mental health conditions like the ones listed above, but it can also cause:
- Academic problems
- Physical symptoms
- Suicidal thoughts
Teens’ social skills can also suffer. While some online social interaction can be beneficial, if it interferes with their face-to-face communications, they can have difficulty building empathy and compassion.
Many experts suggest that your child should be at least 13 years old before creating any social media accounts. And parents agree. However, one report found that about half of kids in the U.S. have some kind of social media account by age 12.
That said, there are a number of things to ask yourself before giving your tween access to social media, such as:
- How robust are their social skills?
- What are their friendships like – do they lend themselves to cruelty or drama?
- Do they follow the rules, or do they disobey and lie often?
- Are they self-confident? Do they reject peer pressure?
- Are they trustworthy?
- Have you had those awkward – yet important – conversations about pornography, sexting and sexual predators?
Every child is unique, so it’s important to base your decision on these factors instead of age alone. You’ll want to make sure your tween is as prepared as possible to deal with age-inappropriate content and cyberbullying.
Before you allow your tween social media access, it’s a good idea to sit down and explore the platform they want to use. Go through some of the privacy settings they should select and discuss what’s appropriate to share, when to reject a friend request and the importance of secure passwords.
On average, teenagers are spending about 9 hours a day in front of a screen. According to Monitoring the Future, spending two hours on social media has shown to contribute to unhappiness and anxiety. Parents are therefore advised to limit social media to 60-90 minutes a day. It’s important that the other hours are spent face-to-face with friends, doing sports or other activities, studying and spending time with family. This balance has shown to produce better students and happier kids overall.
In addition to limiting social media time, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and teens don’t sleep with their devices in their rooms, avoid using them an hour before bed and don’t use them during family dinners.
There are some positive effects of social media. Teens are social by nature, so making socialization easy and immediate can be beneficial. It can also be helpful for those who have social anxiety or struggle with social skills. In addition, marginalized groups – such as LGBTQ teens and those struggling with mental health – can find friendship and support on social media. Those connections can be critical and make a real impact.
There are several warning signs to look for that may indicate your tween is on social media too much:
- They withdraw from face-to-face interaction
- They have consistent anxiety or stress
- They avoid responsibilities like homework or chores
- They feel overwhelmed by normal routines
- Their academic effort decreases and grades begin to slip
- They avoid talking to people next to them by looking at their phone
- Social media creates conflicts in their relationships
If you notice any of these behaviors in your teenager, it might be time for a serious conversation about social media use.
Which Platforms Should My Tween Avoid?
While almost any social media platform should give you some pause, there are several that you might want to actively avoid:
- Tinder: This is a dating (or hook-up) site meant for adults.
- WhatsApp: This free social app allows for the unlimited exchange of messages, photos, video and voice messages. Because teens are known for using this app for sexting, it’s a popular place for predators.
- Kik: This private messaging app can be a favorite among teens because parents can’t read their messages. People on this app can easily create fake identities, so your teen won’t know exactly who they’re talking to.
- Snapchat: This is the app of disappearing messages, where photos and videos delete themselves after a certain amount of time. This can make teens feel safe to share content they normally wouldn’t and do things like sexting. They may also be exposed to cyberbullies and online predators.
What’s the Best Way to Monitor Their Activity?
There are a number of approaches you can take to ensure your teen stays safe on social media, including:
- Keep an eye on privacy settings: Periodically check to make sure they’re set to the strictest setting.
- Require your permission for new app downloads: This way you can vet all new apps and social media accounts.
- Follow them on social media: Insist on becoming their “friend” on social apps so you can see their posts firsthand.
- Use monitoring programs: A few examples include Bark, WebSafety, Net Nanny or PurSight PC.
- Know their passwords: Have them share their login information with you so you can check in on their activity easily.
- Put the computer in a common area: This way, you can have a much clearer view of what they’re doing.
It’s also critical to teach your child responsibility, good judgment and sound decision making. These important life skills will help them navigate the nuances of social media on their own.
In addition, make sure to step in when necessary. If there’s too much drama between your tween/teen and their friends, or if you notice any signs of them spending too much time on social media, you shouldn’t hesitate to take action.
If you are concerned that your child, whether a tween or teen, is experiencing challenges because of social media, the providers at Loudoun Pediatrics Associates are here to offer help and guidance.