Let’s face it, social media is an integral part of life — even for youngsters. So, when should parents introduce their children to it — and how? Atlantic Health System pediatrician Rachel Gwertzman, DO, offers some advice to help you teach your children how to navigate the addictive world of YouTube Shorts, Snapchat and TikTok.
“Parents need to really understand what children are potentially exposed to on social media and how that can impact a young, developing mind,” says Dr. Gwertzman. “Kids can quickly slide into a dark side on these apps. Here are a few ways to avoid the rabbit hole of photos, videos, language, behaviors and topics that are far beyond their maturity level and your family’s values.”
1. An Age-Appropriate Introduction
Access to social media should be gradual, based on the age of your child. Kids younger than 13 are generally not permitted to have a social media account. After age 13, it may still be wise to wait until you feel your child is mature enough to understand the risks of online interaction.
2. Education About Online Safety
Before allowing children to create social media accounts, educate them about online privacy and safety. Discuss the potential risks associated with sharing personal information, interacting with strangers and content that never goes away.
3. Setting Boundaries and Limits
Establish clear time limits for your child. They should not have screens in their bedrooms at or after bedtime (television, tablet, smartphone). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one hour of screen time daily for children ages two to five years, and this rule can apply to kids of all ages. The goal is to teach kids to enjoy and prioritize exercise, outdoor play and time with friends.
4. Monitoring and Supervision
Set up the parental controls on each app and stay involved in their online world. Although it’s not always easy, monitor your child’s social media accounts, friend lists, and content exposure. This is not an invasion of privacy. It’s a proactive way to build trust and identify potential issues.
5. Teaching Digital Etiquette
Children need guidance on appropriate behavior in the digital world. Help them learn how to be a respectful, empathetic and responsible contributor online. Teaching children to think before they post, and to consider the feelings of others, contributes to a better online experience.
6. Modeling Healthy Behavior
Children often learn by example. When you’re showing responsible social media use by avoiding excessive screen time, maintaining a balance between online and offline activities, and treating others with respect online, your child will be more likely to do the same.
7. Recognizing Cyberbullying or Distress
Cyberbullying has not only led to emotional distress in our children — it has also led to suicide. Changes in your child’s behavior or withdrawal from social activities could indicate a problem. By paying close attention and addressing issues promptly, you can help prevent long-term consequences.
“Families need to find what works for them. Just because some parents permit social media doesn’t mean it’s the right decision for you, your child or your family,” says Dr. Gwertzman. “It’s certainly not easy to navigate this ever-evolving social media landscape. But, by focusing on responsible use, parents can empower their kids to develop healthy online habits that will benefit them throughout their lives.”
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