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The world of constant connection through social media presents unique challenges to parenting. For example, what do you do when your 12-year old signs up for Instagram or when your 10-year-old wants a Facebook account?
Social media usage raises a variety of issues, most important of which are the safety of young users and any potential effects it may have on their mental health. No matter when parents decide to allow children to use social media, it’s important to talk with them and be involved – rather than allowing them to brave it alone.
There are a lot of safety concerns that go along with the use of social media. Many of the current users on networks like Facebook or Twitter learned how to use these tools as adults – when they already understood the threats that exist on the World Wide Web. For instance, two such threats are requests from strangers to connect and tracking or sharing a location through social media.
Consider for a moment how many fake or alarming Facebook messages, Instagram follower requests, Twitter follower requests, etc. that you receive on a daily basis. Inexperienced children may not always view these requests as unsafe, so it’s important to educate them on how to identify these as a safety concern and what to do if they see one. Parents can also take the time to help kids protect themselves by making their accounts private or setting them as “unsearchable.”
There is also the issue of location sharing or GPS tracking. Be aware of how a GPS location is shared, as well as how and where your child’s location might be accessible. Children and adolescents should understand that there are potential threats to their safety from the use of these tools.
Our ability to manage incoming content is limited. Additionally, posts, ads and photos often contain content that may not suitable for children and/or adolescents. Parents who are considering allowing children to engage in social media should take this concern seriously; remember, some things cannot be “unseen.”
Social media is simply everyone’s highlight reel. Research suggests that the faux reality of perfection portrayed on social media can have a negative effect on body image, stress and self-esteem, and can also be correlated with deeper issues, such as depression and anxiety. Close communication about social media usage and content is important to understand how it affects your child. It’s vital that young social media users understand that social media is not reality; it is not a place to go if they need help with emotional, social, spiritual or intellectual needs.
If you need help determining how to navigate these challenges, talk with other parents going through the same thing. It will be good to voice your feelings and also to know that you are not the only one going through this. Your EAP provider is also available if you need additional support.