Our last newsletter, “What Kind of Screen Time Parent Are You?”, offered an opportunity to consider the impact of screen time on our personal and family life. This edition offers some guidance taken from the professional literature about how parents can address the issues.
Social networking sites (SNS) have flourished with the advent of technology in the 21st century. We are now able to share, connect and interact with individuals from all walks of life through these virtual communities. While social media plays a pivotal role in our greater internet experience, there are legitimate dangers associated with its use by the child and adolescent population. Children are much more vulnerable to online security breaches that affect their privacy and safety. Fortunately, there are guidelines from bot the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Academy and the American Academy of Pediatrics (see references, below) that offer specific measures that parents take to help ensure the safety of their children on SNS.
Professional consensus, first and foremost, suggests that parents should discuss and develop an agreed-upon media contract at home that can provide both parents and youth parameters around use of technology that set forth clear ground rules for social media activity to include advanced discussion of potential consequences of breaking these rules. This “ounce of prevention approach” can help children understand the concerns related to improper social media use early on so there is a greater likelihood of preventing harm.
Most particularly for younger children, but relevant for all, the implementation of parental controls on devices is an excellent way to monitor social media use, particularly setting age and time limits on SNS. Obtaining passwords for your child’s phone, email and SNS are crucial in enforcing these guidelines. This will allow parents to freely check for tracking software or friend requests from strangers. As part of this process, it is recommended that parents provide complete transparency about the perils of chatting with strangers online and posting personal identifiable information. It is difficult for many children to understand the permanency of their posts, messages and photos and sifting through past posts is just a click away. Inappropriate posts can lead to both immediate danger and they can have larger life implications if future college administrators and employers find them. Encouraging proper social media etiquette and keeping tone respectful can prevent these untoward outcomes.
Parents leading by example is key. The designation of screen-free zones and screen-free times can help youth set limits around use. Keeping phones out of bedrooms and disabling Wi-Fi connections after bedtime can be useful interventions. When problems arise, it may also be appropriate to make household rules that all electronic devices need to be accessed from a central location rather than the privacy of the bedroom as an extra layer of protection. The American Academy of Pediatrics Family Media Plan is a great place to start for families (see references).
It is important to recognize and accept that SNS are the new wave of communication in the younger generation, and can have important beneficial outcomes if utilized appropriately. It is never too early and never too often for parents to coach their children in appropriate use.
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Facts for Families: Social Media and Teens. Updated March 2018. Available at: https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Social-Media-and-Teens-100.aspx
- American Academy of Pediatrics Family Media Toolkit: https://www.healthychildren.org/english/fmp/pages/mediaplan.aspx
Thanks to Sree Reddy, D.O., PGY-4 Fellow UCSD Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and Shawn Sidhu, M.D. Associate Professor, UCSD Child & Adolescent Psychiatry for their contribution of this article.