Willows Reports: Your Child & Social Media
Adolescents and even children are spending more and more time on the Internet. Online activities can provide our kids with entertainment, technical skills and the ability to communicate with others. However, social interaction via the Internet—social media—can sometimes become unhealthy and unsafe, and Willows Pediatrics is here to help advise you of the Internet’s potential hazards.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued a clinical report on “The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families.” The report concludes that not all social media sites are healthy environments for children and adolescents and that parents should be urged to monitor for potential problems that can include cyberbullying, “Facebook depression,” sexting and exposure to inappropriate content. In addition, young people who spend too much time on the Internet have been found to have problems that include Internet addiction and sleep deprivation.
As pediatricians, we want to remind you that many of these online behaviors are extensions of issues that are affecting our children off-line in the real world, like bullying, popularity and status, depression, social anxiety and sexual development. Facebook, for example, can be difficult for kids already dealing with self-esteem issues, according to Dr. Gwenn O’Keeffe, a Boston-area pediatrician and lead author of new American Academy of Pediatrics social media guidelines. “With in-your-face friends’ tallies, status updates and photos of happy-looking people having great times, Facebook pages can make some kids feel even worse if they think they don’t measure up.”
With these issue in mind, we (and the AAP) advise parents to:
(1) talk to your children and adolescents about their online use;
(2) become better educated about the technologies your kids are using;
(3) develop a family online-use plan that includes family meetings and emphasizes citizenship and healthy behavior; and
(4) supervise online activity through active participation and communication.
Please note that age 13 is the minimum age for most social media sites. Falsifying ages so your child can participate on these sites can open the door to an unhealthy social media interaction, and it also sends mixed messages about lying. Online safety must always be the primary message being emphasized.
As with all aspects of adolescence, it’s important to find the right balance between giving your child freedom and autonomy and also maintaining a certain amount of control. As parents, it is our job to keep our children safe. Just as we would want to meet our child’s friends and their parents or do some background research on a school or summer program, we should take the time to understand the social networking they are involved in … and to monitor for potential problems.
If you have any specific questions in this regard, please let us know. As pediatricians and parents, we are doing our best to keep up to date on these technologies and their benefits, as well as their potential dangers.