Social Media and Children – By Sharon H. Press, Ph.D.

Social Media and Children – By Sharon H. Press, Ph.D.


When your child enters the middle school years, you enter a new stage of parenting with new challenges. You need to think about social media and how to make sure your children are safe as they become users and consumers of social media platforms. Being concerned about social media and how it is impacting your child makes you a good parent. However, it is hard to know how to teach your child the proper and safe use of social media. For some middle school children, the start of the school year represents the first time a child has his or her own cell phone. Most teenagers want smart phones to stay connected socially. While you may see your child’s cell phone as a way for you to stay connected to your children, your children see the cell phone as a way to stay connected to their peers and have a presence on social media. Videos, texts, Snapchat and Instagram have become popular ways youth communicate over social media. As a parent, it is important to learn how to help your child navigate social media appropriately and use it for healthy socialization, effective self- regulation, and overall safety. There are important things to remember about social media and your tweens.

  1. Social media was not designed for young middle schoolers. So,say “No” to your child being on social media as long as possible. Early middle school children are too young to understand potential dangers of social media.
  2. Social media is an entertainment technology. It does not make your child smarter or more prepared for real life or a future job; nor is it necessary for healthy social development.
  3. Social media is an addictive form of screen entertainment.And, like video game addiction, early use can set up future addiction patterns and habits.
  4. Social media replaces learning the hard social “work” of dealing face-to-face with peers, a skill that children need to practice to be successful in real life.
  5. Social media can cause teens to lose connection with family and instead view “friends” as their foundation. Since the cognitive brain is still being formed, the need for your teen to be attached to your family is just as important now as when they were younger. Make sure that attachment is strong. While they need attachments to their friends, they need healthy family attachment more.
  6. Social media use represents lost potential for teens. It is easy for teens to waste too much of their time and too much of their brain in a digital world.

Despite the negatives associated with social media, it is here to stay; and it can be a positive part of a child’s life. A child’s self-esteem can be increased when peers “like” a picture, a work of art, or praise a peer’s accomplishment. However, while social media can help build a positive sense of self for teenagers, some teenagers impulsively share the wrong information with acquaintances. This can lead teachers, school personnel, future employers, and college personnel to get the wrong idea of who a child really is. Until your child’s thinking brain is more developed, you must be the one to help them manage impulsive posts on social media.

Unfortunately, social media can also damage self-esteem, support self-destructive methods of managing stress, and isolate a teenager from supportive peers. Teenagers may feel pressured to present an unrealistic view of themselves on one form of social media and hide their real self from those who view the more public social media postings (especially parents). Teenagers can become adept at hiding real difficulties from the people who care the most about them. Parents must learn how to appropriately monitor their child’s social media and recognize that a young teenager needs different monitoring than a junior in high school. When deciding to monitor your child’s social media you need to be honest about what you are doing. You want your child to know you care about keeping them safe, but you do not want to violate their trust by being overly intrusive and breaching their trust.

There are things a parent can do to keep their children safe with social media and not be exposed to adult-like information and demands for mature decisions before they are emotionally ready to manage the implications of what is being posted by themselves and others. The tips below can aide parents in helping their children navigate the world of social media.

  1. Decide with your child what social media sites your child can use. Make sure you spend time looking at the sites before your child uses them and make sure you can monitor what your child posts.
  2. Develop a written contract with your children for the rules of social media and their smart phones. Your child needs to understand that using social media is a privilege and there are consequences for not following the contract. You and your child need to sign the contract; and you must be able to follow through with whatever consequences you have committed to using if your child violates the contract.
  3. Discuss what your children are posting online.
  4. Let your children know that talking to strangers is dangerous and that people your children are talking to can find them through location apps.
  5. Check your children’s phones regularly by having your children give you their phones. Check for deleted items and the search history. Discuss anything that concerns you.
  6. Set limits on screen time. Recent research has indicated that anything over 90 minutes a day on digital media (not including homework time) negatively impacts children and adolescent’s social, emotional, and physical development.
  7. Encourage your child to come to you if he or she is uncomfortable with someone or something on social media.

At times, the world of social media may be difficult for you and your child to manage. You may even feel unsure about how to teach your child to use this powerful technology properly. Remember, you know how to keep your child safe and you know what situations are more than they can handle. Keeping this in mind, you will be able to successfully guide your child through the world of social media and adolescence.

Learn more about Dr. Press on her website, or call her for an appointment at 203 – 221 – 0355. Her office is located at 260 Riverside Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.


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