Social media: The good, the bad and the ugly

Social media: The good, the bad and the uglyWhen we talk with parents about social media, the focus is usually on the dangers involved, whether it’s sharing too much personal information or just spending too much time looking at a screen. But like most things, there is both good and bad. And yes, even some ugly.

The good: Social media helps connect us to the world. It’s easier than ever to get news from anywhere and everywhere, keep up with friends and family, and use apps that can help improve our health, increase creativity, and provide a wealth of fun and games.

The bad: Many have concluded that with the rise of social media, we have basically surrendered any notion of privacy. We also have to keep in mind that whatever pictures, videos or comments we put online are there forever. Nothing goes away permanently on the internet.

The ugly: Sexting, cyberbullying, pedophiles. Parents hope they never have to hear these words in relation to their children. A good resource for reporting/removing inappropriate material on social media can be found at CyberTipline.com.

How can parents keep up?

  • Learn the language: “Facebook? Who uses that anymore?” This is what I hear from many kids and adolescents. Hashtags, Snaps, Vining, Tweeting, streaming, selfies ... these are the terms parents should learn so they can keep up.
  • Slowly but surely: Would you allow your child to start driving without any experience or any knowledge of the rules of the road? Social media should be approached in the same fashion. Children should have restrictions in the beginning (parental supervision, frequent monitoring, limited time and access to sites/devices, minimal time, and no access to passwords). As children prove their responsibility, they earn more freedom, access and independence.
  • Be involved: You have control over how your child will receive information online. Keep the lines of communication open by asking them questions about games they enjoy, who they talk to, sites they frequent, or YouTube channels they follow. Better yet, sit down with them and visit these sites together. It may also help your child explore all the positive aspects of technology by incorporating it into your family life (communicating with distant relatives, watching funny videos together, etc.)
  • Maturity: Age is a good indicator, but you know your child best. Sites like commonsensemedia.org give ratings to social media applications, suggesting age recommendations, providing helpful tips, and information for parents.
  • How you use it: Believe it or not, technology was not created to make a parent's job even harder. Help your child explore all the positive aspects technology has to offer and incorporate into your family life (family game night, communicating with distant relatives, watch funny videos, etc.).
  • Balance: Set a screen time limit. Children should be participating in other extracurricular and engaging with peers outside of activities besides messaging friends on social media (Fosi.org provides family contracts related to social media).
  • Practice makes perfect: Children will make mistakes when using social media, but instead of just removing all their access completely, allow them to learn from those mistakes. Give them helpful feedback so that next time they will make a better choice.
  • Be involved: You have control over how your child will receive information online. Keep the lines of communication open by asking them questions about games they enjoy, who they talk to, sites they frequent, or YouTube channels they follow. Better yet, sit down with them and visit these sites together.
  • Be a good model: How often are you on your phone/tablet? Do you use Facebook during dinnertime? In the middle of a conversation? Your children are watching you, and will take their cues on how to use social media from you.
  • Not bad, just new: The media does a good job of scaring us that the world is falling apart, but last time I checked we are all still here. Children are still communicating, it’s just that the mode of communication has shifted. Instead of trying to fight it, learn it. Join social media sites, text, and if you're feeling confident, share information on the cloud.

It sure would be nice if social media came with its own set of instructions, but the truth is that we’re all just figuring this out as we go. With a little bit of care, you can make sure you and your child get the best out of social media and avoid the pitfalls.

John Parkhurst, PhD- John Parkhurst, PhD, psychologist, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin

Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin is the region’s only independent health care system dedicated solely to the health and well-being of children.

Learn more about Dr. Parkhurst.

 

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