If it were up to parents, most would probably leave their children’s social media use for later in life, yet recent Pew Research shows that 95% of teens have access to a smartphone, and around 45% claim to be online almost constantly. The Internet is useful for learning and social connection in a myriad of ways, but some parents can worry that social media use in particular is taking up most of their kids’ free time. Because social media use is so rampant, we can, perhaps, begin by asking kids how they feel about it. Also in Pew’s survey, around 31% of children felt that social media had a positive effect, while 45% said these sites didn’t affect them positively or negatively. A smaller percent (24%) said they were negatively affected. How can parents boost the positive and reduce the negative?
Know What Platforms Your Children are Using
The most often used online platforms for kids are Snapchat, YouTube, and Instagram. Snapchat, available for kids aged 13 and above, is thankfully used in a generally lighthearted way – to share funny edited photos as well as play games. To ensure healthy use, let your kids know that they myth that snaps ‘disappear after 24 hours’ is unfounded. Go through what type of photos are safe to share. Enter the Settings section to control features such as location and who can view content your child uploads. YouTube and Instagram are a bit easier to control, because you can see whom your child subscribes to or follows, respectively, so you can view content by the people they follow and ensure language and content is appropriate.
Streaming and Live Content
Your children may be keen to watch streamed or live content from their favorite gamers or influencers on sites like Twitch. This is a super fun way to interact with other gamers, follow their favorite broadcasters, and broadcast content themselves. Sites like Twitch are ideal for super communicative kids who are perhaps interested in a career in the media. However, because live comments are unpredictable, this type of site is best for young adults who are quickly able to spot and avoid incendiary or negative content.
Thinking of Limiting Social Media Use?
In the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, researchers found that for parents, three out of the five top health concerns for their kids involve Internet use. These concerns included cyberbullying, not getting enough exercise, and Internet safety. Parents often wonder whether or not to limit social media use or screen time, since they fear doing so may make kids even more eager to reach for their phones. If you have doubts about whether or not to limit social media use (say to weekends or for a specific time during the day), perhaps recent scientific findings may be useful. An Iowa State University study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that children who have limited screen time get more sleep, perform better academically, have better behavior, and have a lower risk of obesity. Lowering exposure to violent media in particular increases positive social interaction and decreases aggression.
Making Other Plans
It’s far easier to entice kids off social media on weekends if you have something more exciting up your sleeve. Car Jung espoused that getaways to nature were crucial for human health (including children’s health), while nature author Richard Louv notes that in his own case, “Nature was my Ritalin” – i.e. it enhanced focus and instilled a sense of wonder many kids are missing these days. Any plan your kids enjoy is fabulous, but if it can involve movement, free play, and exercise in the Great Outdoors, all the better. Once you are in the wild, you can always pause for a little meditation session, encouraging kids to open their senses to the sights, sounds, and textures of ‘the here and now’.
Social media is a fun way for kids to stay connected with their peers and to fill in idle time. However, your kids’ lives will hopefully be so busy that they don’t need to wile away the hours. Getting kids interested in sport, nature, and hobbies like reading or crafts can give them a natural outlet through which to express themselves and their talents. Make sure you enjoy your kids to the fall by bonding with them in as many outdoor adventures as you can; time flies, especially, it seems, when you have kids.