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On Call: Talking With Your Kids about Social Media

Posted on May 11, 2020

We know that social media impacts kids in many ways, but how? Kids who use too much social media can be at greater risk for anxiety and depression. And sometimes they get very little exercise and outdoor time. It is really about finding the right balance but also staying safe on social media and ensuring children have sufficient outdoor time and time for activities outside of electronics.

On this week’s On Call for All Kids, Jennifer Katzenstein, Ph.D., director of psychology and neuropsychology, and Petra Vybiralova, Florida Suncoast Safe Kids supervisor from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, give parents some tips to keep their kids safe on the internet while using various apps and finding the right balance of being online and offline.

What apps should I talk to my kids about? 

Katzenstein: All apps. Everything that is downloaded on the phone and communicated about on the phone should be discussed. However, any app where there is interaction with others should especially be up for discussion. 

Are there any types of apps to look out for and what are some of the potential dangers associated with them?  

Vybiralova: Gaming apps when kids play games with others may start with simple game-related conversations with another player. Eventually, the people on the other side can feel like a real friend. They can also ask the child to follow them on a social network where “the friend” can start private messaging them.

Social media that allow communication, particularly the ones that allow private messaging, create a risk that the “new friend” can have a direct one on one conversation with the child.

Location and geolocation apps select people to contact based on the mobile device’s location. These apps allow users to connect with those close to them geographically. 

Also, there is an app that looks like a calculator that can help hide conversations, photo and video sharing. Be aware that applications are updated often and change their logos.

How do I keep my kids safe?  

Vybiralova: It’s all about good communication and building a trusting relationship with your child so they feel comfortable coming to you to discuss things that happen online. It is very important to have a conversation and set boundaries and expectations before getting the phone. It’s also key to model good phone etiquette and boundaries such as being friends only with the people you know. Prioritize safety and support – try a nonjudgmental approach. Also be clear about any photos that may be sent, and what that means, legally. It is key that kids understand what is put on the internet stays on the internet, even if it is “taken down.” Explain that people can take screen shots or download anything that is posted. Work with your kids to identify a few trusted adults who they feel comfortable confiding in if they find themselves in an uncomfortable conversation or situation. 

What are ground rules our family should have?  

Katzenstein: Parents should have full access to a child’s phone, and that includes all apps and passwords. As a family, social media rules should be decided upon together and may include things like only letting people follow or “friend” if you know them, never giving out personal information, and allowing parents full access to the phone a few times a week. Shutting the phone off at a certain time each night is not only beneficial for having a healthy relationship with social media, but also for high-quality sleep. Social media citizenship, and how we treat each other online, is a discussion that also must be had. Discussing the rules, and agreeing upon the rules, by getting buy-in from your child is so important. 

What are some of the ways to protect your child using the electronics or apps?  

Vybiralova: First and foremost, check with your plan provider. Some providers specifically offer family plans that allow for parents to be able to monitor their child’s online activity. 

Your phone also may have options in settings to monitor the child’s screen time, how and when the phone or apps being used.

Some operating systems may offer additional apps that will allow you to view what your child is installing. Become familiar with the app, before the child installs it. Also, each installed app may have its own privacy settings that will allow the parent and the child to set up boundaries that reflect their family values. 

There are also paid subscription apps that can help meet family needs for monitoring. Make sure you find one that meets your needs before purchasing. 

What should I do if the rules we have set aren’t being followed? 

Katzenstein: If the rules aren’t being followed, there should be consequences.  When setting up the rules, the consequences should also be discussed. One clear consequence is taking away the phone, or removal of another privilege, for a period of time, and then closer monitoring once the phone is returned. 

What are some of the good things about social media? 

Katzenstein: Social media provides opportunities for kids and adolescents to make connections across the world, learn things about other cultures, and have supports from those who may have similar interests. Social media raises awareness, promotes wellness information and makes social connections. 

Social media can be a great opportunity to make connections and learn, but it can also be an opportunity for long-term consequences. As parents, it is our responsibility to ensure our kids are safe and provide the structure and expectations necessary. Also as parents, it is our responsibility to model what we are preaching. 

On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital medical experts. Visit each Monday for the latest report. You also can explore more advice from Jennifer Katzenstein, Ph.D.   

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