Kids and teens may be more tempted than ever to use social media now that they are spending so much time at home. It’s important that parents understand that social media has a dark side, what to be aware of, and how to keep your child safe.
It’s difficult when our child approaches us about social media, saying, “but everybody has it”, about Instagram, Snapchat, TikToK, or the latest platform. We can feel pressure to give in and allow our children access….but before you say yes, understand the potential dangers.
Here are the things that can put kids at risk:
Giving out too much information:
Our kids may inadvertently share too much about themselves such as posting information about their school or places they go. According to Lori Getz, author of “The Tech Savvy User’s Guide to the Digital World”, this can open your child up to identity theft. “Identity thieves love social media because people talk about their pets, hometown , their favorite sports teams,etc, which are all usually answers to security questions and passwords. An identity thief can take advantage by just listening to what a child says or does”.
According to Getz, make sure your child isn’t giving out personal details such as their birthday, or posting pictures that can give clues to personal information such as a driver’s license or even a report card.
Another major danger our child can be exposed to are online predators. Many crimes and abductions of teens occur after they have befriended a predator. According to Getz, predators don’t use identifying information to connect with a child. Instead they will connect with a child online, “groom them” by establishing trust and dependence, and then convince the child to come to them.
Know who is following your child. Talk to your child about online predators, let them know it’s never ok to befriend strangers- even if they think the “friend” is a child. Predators often pose as children of your child’s age in order to connect with them. Let your child know it is never ok to hide an online friend from their parents and that anyone asking them to do this, has bad intentions.
Talk to your child about being careful on social media but also when gaming: gaming environments are also places where predators lure kids. If someone they are gaming with is asking them personal questions- this is a danger sign!
The myth of a “private account”:
Setting an account to private, doesn’t make it safe. Remember that your child may connect with friends, friends of friends, people they have played games with but don’t really know. When your child posts a picture or special experience, all their followers have the ability to share that post and present it to others as they choose. Which brings us to the next issue…
Once your child posts something…it’s out there……
Our children don’t always have the best judgement or understand the consequences of their actions. Kids and teens may post a picture or comment without thinking it through, which later comes back to haunt them. Teens often report having humiliating experiences because something they shared (an inappropriate picture, video or comment) was then shared by others. Help your child to understand that what they post today, can hurt them tomorrow. They can be denied jobs or other opportunities years from now, because of something they posted today. Ask your child to ask themselves before sharing, would I want everybody in school to see this? Would I want my parents or my friends’ parents to see this? If not, don’t post it! Once it’s out there, there’s no delete option.
I follow my kid, so I know they’re safe. Right?
Not necessarily. Another reason we want to make sure we are having open and ongoing conversations about our child’s social media use, is because if they want to hide accounts from you, they can. According to Getz, kids can create a family friendly Instagram account or “finsta” (fake instagram) for example, filled only with things they want you to see. Meanwhile, their actual Instagram account may look very different.
Continue to talk about your child about safe practices. Monitor how much time they spend on their phones and be aware of secretive behavior. If your child seems to want to hide their device from you, it’s time to check in about why. To maintain openness and trust, don’t embarrass your child with comments when you follow them, or post things in your own accounts about them that they would find embarrassing. Provide your child with a good model of social media use.
Social Media can increase our child’s feelings of anxiety and depression: Here is why:
What people share on social media is not a reflection of their real lives, but rather what they want people to see. When our kids see profiles of others, it may seem that others’ lives are perfect and ideal, when this is not reality. Our children may feel that aspects of who they are- what they look like, where they live, the experiences they have, don’t measure up. They will compare themselves to others, not understanding that what they are comparing themselves to isn’t really attainable.
Social Media also shows us what we want to see. It is skewed to reinforce what we believe and limits our perspectives. Therefore, your child’s social media feed will inundate them with narrow information that gives them a narrow picture of the world. That picture can be dark and contribute to anxiety and depression.
Explain this to your child. Watching “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix is a great way to help your child to understand how social media works and what they should be aware of.
Lastly, many of the connections we make on social media are artificial. Your child may have many followers, but have meaningful connections with very few. Having hundreds of followers is no substitute for having a few close friends, but kids will use numbers of followers as a way of evaluating themselves and others. They will depend on how many “likes” they get to know if they’re ok. Depending on the constant validation of others can negatively affect self- esteem, and over investing in social media takes away from a child’s ability to invest in making and keeping true friendships.
Helping Your Child find Healthy Balance:
Remind your child of the importance of connecting with friends instead of over-focusing on their social media. Understand that Social media can become addictive, it can negatively affect school performance, can affect your child’s sleep habits, discourages real life interactions and relationships, and can cause anxiety and depression.
Limit your child’s screen time and encourage other healthier activities. Reduce time on screens (when your child is not in virtual school) to no more than two hours a day. Don’t allow unfettered access to phones- for example, no phones at mealtimes or bedtime.
Help your child to identify other activities your child can do, and identify what you can do together. Does your child like art, music, helping with projects around your home? Can you plan family activities together that don’t involve devices? You may not be able to avoid social media being a part of your child’s life, but you can help them to deal with it in a balanced way.