How to Talk to Your Kids About Social Media
An extremely important conversation to have.
Part entertainment, part game, part information hub, social media is ever-present these days. And kids of all ages, even little ones, are often exposed daily to this modern way to connect online. But when kids and social media connect, there is the possibility for both great benefits and risks. Kids can get obsessed or bullied or sad or just VERY distracted by spending too much time on social media.
It’s very important for parents to talk to their kids about social media in order to inform them about possible dangers, set limits, and help them navigate online social realms safely. Read on to learn more about how and when to discuss social media with your children, what to say, and how to assist them in using these platforms in a healthy manner.
Why Talking To Your Kids About Social Media Matters
Social media offers a great way to connect and interact with loved ones, friends, acquaintances, your community, and people around the globe, near and far. But social media can also be a source of unreliable, dangerous, hurtful, draining, stressful, or mind-numbing content.
So, it’s vital for parents and their kids to learn to curate the sites they use and the information they are exposed to. Kids need to understand that what they see online may or may not be true. And that it can actually be harmful. They need to know that just because they can access certain social media content does not mean it is appropriate for them—or in line with their family’s values.
It’s also important to understand that kids of all ages may not have the developmental ability to monitor their own usage. This means parents need to step in to provide the scaffolding necessary to make sure their kids use social media in a healthy way.
What to Say to Your Kids About Social Media
First off, it’s important to explain to kids that social media offers both positives and negatives. The biggest benefits of social media include the opportunity to connect with friends, make new ones, discover cultural trends, find like-minded people, learn about just about anything you can imagine, and simply be entertained.
But just like anything else your kids do, using these platforms brings risks, too. Kids can be exposed to inappropriate content, such as swear words, adult-themed posts, false, manipulative, or inflammatory information, bullying, shaming, or other hurtful experiences. Kids can also get “addicted” to social media, leading them down a rabbit hole of endless scrolling.
Physical and mental health impacts of overuse
Some kids will begin choosing online “friends” and experiences over those in the real world. They may sacrifice their sleep to stay up to check on all the latest feeds. In fact, research shows that there can be very real physical and mental health costs of this behavior, particularly when left unchecked.
Kids can easily end up overwhelmed, overtired, and overstimulated. Or worried that their life, their looks, their social lives, or their accomplishments aren’t up to snuff. They may gain weight and/or not get enough physical activity if they are spending hours sitting and snacking on their phones, rather than up and about engaging in sports or other more active social outlets.
Studies also show that mental health issues tend to crop up with increased social media usage, leading to stress, anxiety, depression, lowered self-worth, feelings of isolation, and other emotional concerns. Kids can feel left out (or ostracized) when they see their friends online at events they weren’t invited to. Kids can get bullied or shamed online. Kids can suffer from “fomo,” which means fear of missing out. Kids can feel bad about themselves when they compare their life or looks or achievements to the seemingly real but probably highly curated “perfect” images and videos influencers and others post online.
Setting limits is challenging for everyone
Talk to your kids about how hard it is for adults and kids alike to limit their social media usage. Talk about reasonable limits and brainstorm together what appropriate social media rules should be for your family. This might mean they can use certain apps for specific amounts of time.
You might insist that electronic devices are not kept in their bedrooms overnight. You might agree to have monthly or weekly check-ins about what social media they are consuming and how their usage limits are working. The bottom line is to keep an open line of communication, ask questions of your kids about what social media they like and what they’re doing online. Follow your instincts on what limits your kids need and what content is right for them. And know you can always make changes as needed.
When Should You Talk to Your Kids About Social Media?
Engaging in social media has become commonplace, even among young children. Kids as young as single digits may be perusing TikTok or posting on Instagram, so your best bet is to start these conversations early and often.
When the right age is will differ among kids, depending on their access to and interest in social media. But once they have any online access, it’s important to begin in order to create a positive framework that will develop as they enter into more active social media usage.
However, note that if your kids are already avid social media users, it’s never too late to start talking. And you can always step in to evaluate what is working and what is not and make changes to provide effective limits.
Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Social Media
Know that you get to decide how much social media access to give your kids. And what is right for one family (or kid) may not be right for another. You get to decide based on what works best for your family and your values and the specific needs of your child.
However, also key is to recognize that you can’t always be there to police everything your kid does online, so it’s important to teach them how to begin managing this important skill for themselves. Give your children as much freedom as appropriate but continue monitoring how well they are following the rules. Dial back their access if they are abusing their privileges.
That said, parental limits are essential. Of course, it’s natural to be curious and tempted to look up social media accounts that are trending, especially ones that may seem “ cool” or forbidden, so it’s especially important for parents to put in limits and parental controls so that inappropriate content is not available for curious eyes.
Setting time limits on usage is also key, as it is often very challenging for kids (or adults) to curtail their own screen time. Kids’ brains are still developing, which means their time management, impulse control, risk aversion, and other executive function skills are not at peak capacity.
So, parents need to step in to set guidelines for when, how, and where their children consume social media. The same holds true for kids’ ability to evaluate the veracity and relevance of social media content, particularly for younger children. For this reason, it’s important for parents to curate which social media sites their kids can access.
Keep in mind your child’s maturity level and ability to think critically about what they are seeing. Some 12-year-olds may be well-equipped to handle navigating Instagram or BeReal, while others may not be savvy enough yet. Likewise, while platforms like YouTube and TikTok have tons of family-friendly posters, they also have lots that are not meant for young ears or eyes.
So, be sure you know what social media sites your kids are on, who they follow, and what other content they are consuming. Additionally, be sure to consider whether you think it’s safe for your child to post their own content online. Decide if their content should be private or publicly available and if you want to allow them to comment on the posts of others or otherwise engage in discourse with others online.
Finally, ask them about what they are watching, which influencers they enjoy, and who they are communicating with via social media. Show an interest in their interests and scroll along with them. That’s the best way to find out what they are really up to online—and doing so gives you ample opportunities to discuss the content they are engaging with and their social media habits.
Aim to view what they are watching with an open mind and use these moments to bond with your child and get to know them better. Also, give them the chance to ask you questions, as well. If you listen with a non-judgmental ear, they will be more likely to bring their social media questions and concerns to you. Or let you know if they happen to see or experience something troubling online.
Talking to your kids about social media is an important part of parenting. These conversations can help keep your kids safe online. Additionally, setting up age-appropriate parameters lets them enjoy the many positives that social media can provide in a healthy way. Once kids know more about the possible dangers, they can become more savvy consumers of social media.
So, whether your teen has been using social media for years or if your younger child is just embarking on exploring these online platforms, take the time to discuss the pluses and minuses of these virtual worlds and how to enjoy them safely.