Our world is dominated by social media. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to many of us. Think about your family, friends, and even yourself. Odds are that you alone have a few social media profiles. One of the joys of these new social channels is that they are open to everyone. Grandparents can see real-time images from a grandchild’s soccer match. Brothers can continue silly rivalries even though they live in different states (not that I’d know about that ;). A pressing question for many parents, however, is should children be allowed to use social media?
While some of the benefits I mentioned above are clear, social media also presents some risks. Parents are right to question if their children should be allowed to create social profiles. If it is allowed parents must also contemplate rules and guidelines that children must follow.
Some risks to using social media include exposure to fake news and oversharing personal information. It isn’t to say that children do these things on purpose. Most of the time it’s an accident and a bad actor on the other side of the screen is taking advantage of a young person’s naivety.
In this post I’ll examine some of the risks to social media and propose some countermeasures to keep kids safe. At the end of the day, the answer will depend on you and your family’s unique circumstances.
Social Media Usage Risks
Unhealthy Screen Time
Let’s start out with an easy one. No child, or parent for that matter, should be spending hours endlessly scrolling through social media. This leads to numerous bad side effects such as eye strain, poor posture, and weight gain due to lack of exercise. Heavy usage of social media can also lead to poor communication skills in the real world.
For my family we discuss healthy screen time habits and set boundaries. I know from experience that we sometimes need rules to keep us from over indulging in our screens. For many years I would spend hours working in front of a screen. When work was over I’d keep on going playing games or working on side projects. In the end I gained weight, got a slouch in my shoulders, and damaged my eyes. It was all around a bad outcome. I’m not saying this will happen to your children, but it is a risk to be considered.
Social media can be good, but like ice cream, only in moderation. Spend some time each day checking in with family and friends. Then return to more productive and active tasks.
I really wish this wasn’t on the list, but it is. Get any group of people together and someone, somewhere will try to profit. Add into the mix easy targets who lack knowledge on how to protect themselves and the situation is made worse. I’m not a fan of turning social media into a boogeyman, but parents and children should have discussions about how to stay safe online.
Online safety education helps children understand how potential attackers might make an advance and other safety tips. I always recommend making this conversation open and honest. Don’t overblow the possibilities, but also don’t sugar coat the facts. Being online is a responsibility, not a right. Children should receive proper education to keep themselves safe online.
Children are exposed to more today than I ever was. With a search and a click they can find themselves in some interesting spots online. While inappropriate content is bad, cyberbullying is a particular area of concern for me. Kids can be made to feel like the entire world is against them for someone else’s amusement. A frank discussion on what to do if your child is being cyberbullied is important. Kids must know that negative Facebook posts aren’t the end of the world. When you’re a teenager it may feel that way. As parents we need to keep the lines of communication open and learn to spot signs of cyberbullying.
While we all endeavor to raise little angels, it’s important to also look for signs that your child is a cyberbully. While an uncomfortable thought we owe it to our child and their target to take action if we have valid suspicions.
Social Media Usage Benefits
The question of should children be allowed to use social media shouldn’t focus only on the downside. One of the best parts about social media is that it’s social. Kids can connect with friends and family from around the world. This is an extraordinary opportunity. Online friendships can turn into real world connections at school and in the workplace.
The interactive nature of social media also means that kids can learn about other cultures. No longer do pen pals have to wait for a letter to be mailed. Kids eager to learn about foreign cultures can connect with others their own age to trade stories. MyLanguageExchange has a pen pal feature that allows you to search for a pen pal by country and other filters. This is also a great way to encourage your child to learn a foreign language!
Sharp Analytical Skills
How does one learn how to spot an online scam quickly? By seeing lots of online scams.
I certainly don’t wish that anyone fall victim to an online scam. However, these do exist and will continue to exist for the foreseeable future. Children who have spent time on social media and around the web are more savvy at spotting a fraud. This is because they have had more exposure to scams and know what to look for.
This may sound counter-intuitive for some parents. Isn’t our job to shield our children from scams and harm? The answer is yes, but it’s also our job to ensure as they get older we provide them with the tools and knowledge to fend for themselves. This means helping them understand that an African prince doesn’t really want to send them a boat of gold coins in exchange for $500.
In addition to scams children who have had exposure to social media and proper guidance will also be better at spotting fake news. This is a problem today and will only get worse. Kids who grow able to quickly spot fake news, or at least fact check what they read, will be much better off than those without these skills.
So, should children be allowed to use social media? The answer will ultimately depend on your family and personal beliefs. Social media usage can be good or bad as I’ve outlined above. It depends on your particular approach and the education your children receive on proper usage. If you’re still on the fence then start small. Give your child small social media freedoms and increase these freedoms as they are earned. This will help build confidence, awareness, and savvy for using social tools and other online resources.