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The children of today are growing up in a world that revolves around social media. Although there are benefits to being able to connect with others through the internet, there are also some risks to be aware of.
- Cyberbullying: This is bullying others through online means. Ramifications include low self-esteem and poor mental health. It is important to teach your children that people will say mean things, but that they should not pay them too much mind. It can be helpful to discuss the headspace of someone that might say something cruel to another, whether they are the victim or the bully.
- Online Predators: Although it is hard to constantly monitor who your child may be talking to, it is important to discuss with them not to talk to strangers online. You can make them more aware by discussing certain things potential predators may say to them. This can include asking for personal information or asking to meet up. It can also be important to encourage your children to have private accounts, so that only those granted access to view their account can look at their pictures or other information they may post.
- Sharing too much information: This is usually an issue because personal information is often shared in potentially harmful behavior. The ramifications of this include identity theft and predatory behavior. This is another important reason to encourage children to have private accounts on social media. Also, discuss with them what is and is not okay to post on their social media and why.
- False marketing: This can be hard for children to gauge when something is fake marketing. It is important to research and explain to your children what to be aware of to avoid being tricked. A good rule of thumb is that if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. It is important to again remind your child to not provide personal information without discussing it with you. Some false marketing are:
- Product Misrepresentation: This usually entails the product looking different or having different qualities than stated in the ad. The product’s color, size, and look are the things most often misrepresented.
- Hidden Fees: These are any extra fees that are not stated in an ad or products that have falsely inflated prices so the seller can then advertise them as on sale.
- Misuse of the Word “Free”: Most things are not free, and you will likely have to pay for something before receiving the product.
- Dangerous viral trends: There is always some new trend that gets a lot of attention on social media and everyone wants to participate in it, but sometimes these trends can be dangerous. Also, most of these trends play directly into how adolescent brains are wired. This is another area where it is important to talk with your child about what they are seeing on social media. It will give some insight into what the current trends may be and which ones they may be interested in participating in. You can also look into current trends yourself to stay up to date.
Although there are dangers that anyone using social media should be aware of, there can also be benefits to children using social media. They gain these benefits while also engaging in something they enjoy.
- Digital Media Literacy: This is the practice of interpreting digital media and discerning its accuracy and contextual implications. Skills learned include problem-solving, civic engagement, fact-checking, and research. The developmental benefits are language and literacy, cognitive development, and analytical thinking. Children learn to identify news and information distributed by reputable sources through social media. This can be a good way to discuss current events with children in the context of social media and to learn more about what they are being exposed to on social media platforms.
- Collaborative Learning: This is any kind of learning done by joint effort. Skills learned include teamwork, emotional resilience, cooperation, empathy, and leadership. The developmental benefits are language and literacy and social skills. Studies have shown that the more children interact in collaborative learning online, the better their attitudes are towards technology. This is especially important since technology is being engrained more into everyone’s daily life, whether through work or communication with others.
- Creativity: This is using your imagination to make something, or develop an idea or concept. Skills learned include expanding understanding of the world around them, problem-solving, lateral thinking, self-expression, and communication. The developmental benefits are emotional regulation, cognitive perception, and strategic planning. Social media can play a huge role in a child’s creativity in the digital space. Some social media platforms (i.e., Tik Tok and Instagram) encourage children to create their own ideas in different ways that they enjoy, while also being able to share it with others.
- Mental Health and Wellbeing: This is a state when an individual realizes their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses or life, and can work productively and contribute to their community. Social media is often viewed at as contributing negatively to children’s mental health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, that can be true for many children, but there are also some positive contributions to children’s mental health and wellbeing by using social media. It allows children to interact with likeminded people that can relate to their experiences. It can give children a more comforting way to engage with peers and discuss their thoughts and feelings.
Although most social media apps require users to be at least 13 years old, there are many children under the age of 13 that are on these social media platforms. But in a recent poll, parents shared that 50% of children 10 to 12 years old and 33% of children 7 to 9 years old use social media apps. It is important to talk to children about what social media is and give them guidelines for how to use it.
If your child is old enough and social media is something they have expressed interest in, determine if you think your child is ready to be on social media platforms. Some ways to do this are by gauging their maturity level and how they interact with others such as friends at school. If you are unsure, you can allow them to do a trial run on social media to see if it is something you think they would be able to handle. If you decide to allow your child to sign up for social media accounts, there are a few tips that have helped many parents limit the dangers of social media as much as possible.
Tips for Parents
Talk with your Child: It is important to be open and honest with your child about what social media is, what it is used for, and the dangers that come along with it. Determine why they are interested in having an account and what they would use it for. Also, continue to talk often once they do join social media platforms. Continuing to talk to your child allows them to feel like they can go to you and you also remain in the know about what they may be doing.
Be Aware and Monitor: Ensure that you are aware of what your child is doing on their phone and computer. There are a number of dangers on social media, as listed above, and you should do what you can to limit the chance of your child encountering those dangers. Especially, by ensuring that they are not speaking to strangers on the internet or giving out personal information. Having a conversation with your child about these things before allowing them to sign up for social media should reduce some of the actions they may engage in, but kids will be kids so being aware and checking for yourself what they are up to are still very important. There are apps that allow parents to monitor their child’s social media or you can simply scroll through the child’s tablet or phone to view their social media.
Limit Time: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time to two hours a day for children. There are apps that can limit the time spent on specific apps or the electronic device as a whole. These are great tools to give parents more control over their child’s social media presence. It is also important to understand what the screen time is taking time away from. For example, your child could be missing out on getting physical activity, face to face interactions, or learning time.
Go easy on yourself: Trying to figure out the best route to take when it comes to dealing with your child and social media is not easy. Talk with other parents to figure out what they do or ask for help if you’re struggling with what to do when it comes to navigating social media and keeping your child safe. There are also podcasts and other websites that teach parents how to navigate social media with their children. In the end, do what you feel is best for you and your child.
 Noga Magen-Nagar & Miri Shonfeld, The impact of an online collaborative learning program on students’ attitude towards technology (2017).