THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE SCARY
With the rise of technology, there was an explosion of tools helping us stay connected to friends and family. MySpace, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok. With so many apps, it is hard to keep track! And new apps are coming out all the time. Over 75% of teens have access to social media. But we need to start thinking about and educating our children about social media long before the teenage years. There are benefits and risks that come with social media that are much more likely to have an effect on children.
When should my child have access to social media?
All children should have NO access to social media until they are 13 years old. Social media is changing the way are children are growing up. Once social media is introduced most children spend 3-7 hours on their phone or computer. Those 3-7 hours are hours not spent studying, playing, or having face to face conversations with friends.
Most teens use at least 1 social media site and 25% of teens say they are constantly connected to their phone.
THE GOOD AND THE BAD
Social media has risks but there are also some benefits. Social media can promote socialization and communication. Especially right now during COVID-19 precautions, it is a great way for teens to stay in touch with family and friends. Social media also exposes kids to new ideas and new social circles. They can express individuality and creativity. They can increase their ability to learn and have a greater access to information, including health information.
THE BAD AND THE SCARY
Social media is addictive. Our brains have the same response to phones and social media that it does to alcohol, drugs, and gambling. Phone and apps are designed to have kids wanting more and to stay on longer. That is why most Silicon Valley executives including Bill Gates do not let their children have phones or social media until 14-16 years of age!
Children’s brains are not ready to deal with the emotions that can come with social media. They often feel left out or less than. The more time a child spends on social media, the more likely they are to be depressed. It is so common it has been termed “Facebook Depression”.
Young brains also release stress hormones the longer they spend on social media resulting in increased feelings of anxiety.
Social media increases the risk your child may be victim of or participate in cyber bullying. Over 25% of kids have been victims of cyber bullying and 10% have been the perpetrator. The younger they start with a phone or social media, the more likely they are to be involved. Social media provides an increased opportunity for cyberbullying since it is not just happening at recess or at school.
In addition to cyber bullying, children are much more likely to be exposed to explicit content. Makers of explicit content target children. Over 42% of young children have been exposed to explicit images with over 60% of those exposures are through advertisements. Certain apps also open doors for child predators. These predators hide behind fake names, ages, and photographs. The algorithm for social media sites that presents your child with content, especially TikTok, make it easier for these predators to find your child. They then engage the child and “groom” them before they attempt to inflict harm.
And not only are children exposed to explicit content, they are much more likely to CREATE explicit content such as “sexting” or sending inappropriate photographs. Though they often mean to send these privately, once taken and sent, they have no control over the spread of the photo or text and who is able to see the image.
Children are also much more susceptible to advertising and images shown by influencers. This can range from items to purchase, lifestyle choices, as well as unhealthy body image.
When your child is asking to download an app such as Instagram, Snapchat, or TikTok, it is important to remember you are signing a contract that says your child is 13 years old or older. Disregarding this age limit, sets a poor example and may make them more likely to disregard age limits set for alcohol and tobacco use.
How Can I Keep My Child Safe?
Keeping our children safe is a top priority for all parents. Here are a few recommendations of things your family can do to ensure safe use of social media:
• Set privacy settings on the phone and in the apps
• Use screen time settings on an Iphone or an app to block explicit content, some wireless routers even have this capability (Disney Circle, eero etc)
• Make a family plan or agreement for using social media
• Educate yourself about technology and applications, know what applications may be hiding dangerous apps in plain site
• Talk to kids about social media and the risks of social media
• Emphasize healthy behaviors and good social media citizenship
• Supervise all online activity
• Be willing to remove apps or access to social media if your child is showing signs of anxiety or depression or is not showing good citizenship online.
We can’t prevent the world from changing but we can make sure we stay up to date and educate ourselves on the newest technology in effort to make social media a positive experience for our families. Waiting until your child has the maturity to handle social media and having discussions about the risks that come with social media is essential for every family.
Children’s Health Care of Newburyport, Massachusetts and Haverhill, Massachusetts provides comprehensive pediatric health care from birth through adolescence. Our child-centered and family-focused approach covers preventative and urgent care and specialist referrals including on on-site pediatric nutritionist, special needs care coordinator, and social workers. We provide care for families across the North Shore, Merrimack Valley, southern New Hampshire, and the Seacoast regions.
Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.