By: Lauren Biegel, Asst. Director, Programs
Social media is everywhere. Especially through COVID-19 sheltering, social media connects many of us to people across the world, and there’s a lot to love about it: funny videos, life hacks, and updates on friends we haven’t seen in a long time. However, there’s a lot we don’t know about the long-term effects of widespread social media use which makes it particularly scary for our kids. Per Common Sense Media, teen and tween social media use increased more in the first 2 years of the COVID-19 pandemic than it had in the previous four.
With the age at which children are getting online decreasing to as young as 8 or 9, parents and researchers are concerned. According to one study, use of social media, particularly Instagram and Snapchat, before age 11 was “significantly associated with problematic digital behavior…including having online friends or joining social media sites parents would disapprove of, more problematic digital technology behaviors, more unsympathetic online behaviors, and greater likelihood of online harassment and sexual harassment victimization.”
Despite a parent’s best efforts, it often feels that keeping kids offline these days is impossible. Plus, complete disconnection might not be the goal. Social media can teach children valuable skills about communicating with others, learning about other places or cultures, and digital literacy that prepares them for learning and working in the digital age.
So what can parents do?
Experts agree, the best thing parents and caregivers can do is be aware of and engaged in their child’s social media use. It needs to be clear to children what the expectations are for their social media usage and things they need to watch out for. Parents can also consider creating a “social media agreement” that clearly outlines the appropriate ways to use social media and what to do when unsure. Parents should also try to stick to the 2-hour a day screen time rule, supplementing with ample time outside and physical activity.
Overall, researchers agree that parents should have compassion for themselves in navigating the new social media landscape with their kids. There is, unfortunately, no “right” answer to many of the biggest questions, “how young is too young?”, “which sites are best?”, or “will this impact brain development long term?” While the research catches up and evolves, ee do know that the best course of action is to have an open, ongoing conversation around what children are seeing and how they feel about it. Social media can be an incredible opportunity for parents to see into their child’s world and help them think critically about what’s going on in it.