Recent news coverage about the negative effects of social media on kids have concerned parents. “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” reads an Instagram internal slide as reported by The Wall Street Journal. Other internal research found that “using Instagram is associated with increased risks of physical and mental health harms on young people, including depression, eating disorders and even suicide.” Now is the perfect time to reevaluate the impact of social media on your kids. Here are five tips to get you started:
Tip #1. Understand What Communication Platforms Your Child Uses
Kids access a variety of online communication platforms, depending upon their ages and interests. After a lecture by her dad about the potential harm that Instagram can cause, Claire, a Round Rock middle schooler, responded, “Why are you telling me all this? I don’t even use Instagram.” So, target your efforts based on the platforms your children use. Popular apps other than Instagram include TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat, WhatsApp and Discord. Ask your child to show you the chat apps, social media and online games they use on a frequent basis. Ask for a “tour” of how each platform works and what activities your child engages in. You may want to download a few of your kid’s favorite apps on your device and establish your own accounts to learn more.
Tip #2. Maintain a Supportive Communication Style
All parents want their children to talk with them freely and openly. Yet, some parents don’t realize that an accusatory or blaming response may block future communication. Focus on listening. Listen more than you talk. Validate your child’s feelings instead of brushing them aside with comments such as “you know better than that!” If your child summons the courage to tell you about something he shouldn’t have done, don’t immediately jump in with consequences. Stay calm. Express gratitude that your child confided in you. Give yourself some space to process the information and develop a sound strategy to avoid damage to future communication.
Tip #3. Set Digital Boundaries
Most apps come with safety settings. Many have default privacy settings based on age. Sit with your child and look at the privacy settings in each of the apps. Check to see whether the account is public or private, who can see what your child shares, and who can send messages. Make sure the location services are turned off. Caution your kids to preserve online anonymity. They should avoid sharing full names, addresses, phone numbers, passwords or credit card numbers. Encourage them to use a username to stay anonymous. Online friends should remain online.
Teach your child about the “block” feature. It can be used to avoid getting messages from particular people or seeing their posts. Talk to your child about cyberbullying and what to do if he or his friends are a target. Go to stopbullying.gov to learn more.
Make your child aware that anything sent out online will be available forever. Some people think that it’s safe to send explicit photos through SnapChat because they self-destruct within about 10 seconds. However, the recipient could take a screenshot before the photo disappears and post it online.
Tip #4. Expand Your Child’s World
most of your child’s free time is spent online, these interactions can disproportionately impact her sense of happiness and well-being. Here are some strategies that might help add balance:
Decrease screen time. Put away all devices during family mealtime and at least one hour before bedtime. Don’t allow devices in your child’s bedroom during sleeping hours – fix a charging station in the parents’ room to eliminate afterhours use. Set limits on daily screen time.
Encourage hobbies, sports and extracurricular activities. Bring more fun to your children’s lives by helping them develop new hobbies to channel creative energy. Enroll your child in a neighborhood sports team or afterschool activities at your church or community center.
Make one hour of daily exercise a priority. Physical activity reduces the risk of depression and builds a strong, healthy body. It can also be fun! Involve your child in family activities and chores. Bring your child along as you walk the dog. Take a family bike ride. Help your kids learn new kitchen skills by making dinner together
Tip #5. Model Self-Acceptance
Parents’ behavior impacts how children see their world. Express acceptance of different types of body shapes, including your own. Focus on good nutrition and healthy eating as opposed to eating plans with the main goal of losing pounds. Practice self-care as a priority.
Brenda Schoolfield is a freelance medical writer based in Austin.