Social Media and Kids: What Parents Should Know

Kids playing on social mediaIf you read the title of this article and you wondered what social media is, then you need to read this article. If you are already well aware of social media, then you need to be aware of how your children are using it.

What is social media?

Social media consists of online interaction where people can communicate, collaborate, discuss ideas and play games. The most popular platform is Facebook, with more than 1.3 billion active monthly users worldwide. There are many more though, including Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and many games, where friends can “gift” items to each other and “chat” during play.

Why should I be concerned?

Although children and teenagers are very digitally savvy, they still don’t have the life experience and good judgment that comes with age. It is very easy to post a picture or make a comment, but it’s almost impossible to take it back once it is posted and shared. There are also adults who pose as other children and teens to gain their trust but then take advantage of them.

Are there benefits to my child being involved in social media?

Absolutely! It’s a great way for them to find people who are interested in the same things they are. It is also a wonderful way for them to keep in touch with friends and relatives who they may not see very often. Research has also shown that it increases kids’ involvement in community service activities, and it can help them become more comfortable sharing creative works, such as art, writing or music. It can let a team communicate outside of scheduled practices and games and make them a more cohesive group. Classmates can work on a project together without having to be in the same room. These are just some of the ways our children can benefit.

How do I make sure my child is safe?

  1. Know what platforms your child is using, and make sure you know how to use them, too.
  2. If your child has an account, you should have an account, and you should be online “friends” with them in every platform they use. Make sure to visit their pages periodically to see what they are doing if you are not actively using the same platforms they do.
  3. Keep the computer in an area where you can see what they are doing. For older children who have their own smart phones, make it a rule that you get to look at their browsing history and texting logs whenever you want.
  4. Be clear that you will not tolerate posts that are mean, gossip or anything that’s untrue, potentially harmful or embarrassing. This is known as “cyberbullying” and is a very real problem for kids today.
  5. Remind them there is no real privacy online, and in the future, employers and colleges could see what they posted today.
  6. Set rules and boundaries for when and how long digital devices can be used. Make meal times “screen free.” Set a reasonable bedtime and make sure the computer, cell phone and tablet stay out of the bedroom to ensure your child is not having his or her sleep interrupted and is not staying up too long. Try this pledge that everyone in the family can sign: Media Time Family Pledge.

Whether you like it or not, social media is part of life today, and hopefully you can help your child safely use it and take advantage of the benefits it offers. Maybe your child will open your eyes to something new online that you love, too!

By Dr. Shari Eich

Pediatrician at Avera Medical Group McGreevy Clinic, Sioux Falls

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