The internet is a huge source of information and connection opportunities. While this can be beneficial, it can also pose dangers to young minds. Social media can positively or negatively impact young people’s mental health, so regular conversations about good social media usage are important.
Why Talk About Social Media?
If your child has access to the internet, they have access to social media sites and downloadable materials. It’s best to have a conversation about the apps on their phones or the websites they visit before a problem occurs.
Keep in mind that young people are often exposed to new platforms before they’re mainstream. This means that you may not be aware of a platform your child is using unless you talk to them about it.
Talking about social media and online habits can feel awkward at first, but talking to your child early can get them comfortable sharing this type of important information with you. By starting early, you make these conversations feel natural and unintrusive. If anything bad or concerning does happen, your child will feel more comfortable coming to you for help if you’ve already established a safe space for that type of dialogue.
Promote positive social media usage. While there are valid concerns about social media, it can be a positive force for connection and social networking. By having open conversations about social media, its benefits, and its risks, you can promote positive social media usage. Create a plan to inform them of the benefits of social media and what to be cautious about. This will help your relationship with your child as you manage their social media usage together.
How to Talk About Social Media
Your kids, and the internet, are constantly evolving and growing. So it’s important to remember that guidelines can and should change over time, and may vary by child. What works for your youngest child might not for your oldest one.
This also means that you should revisit the conversation about social media as often as feels appropriate. Here are six key tips to get the conversation going:
- Set the tone. Begin your talk in a calm, neutral way. Avoid yelling or emotional language when discussing their social media usage. Taking a nonjudgmental approach when talking about social media with your child can help create open, trusting relationships, which will help your child feel comfortable talking about their online presence.
- Ask before you tell. Ask your child what apps or platforms they’re using. Let them teach you how they work. Ask questions to understand the appeal and the way they like to use the platform.
- Lead by example. Talk to your child about how you use social media in a healthy way, and let your child know that they can come to you with any questions or concerns. Being honest and transparent will help them trust you in serious moments.
- Stay calm. If you find out your child has been using a site inappropriately or engaging in behavior you don’t approve of, stay calm. It’s important to gather information and let them know you appreciate them telling you.
- Talk about permanence and privacy. Let them know that what’s posted online is permanent. Then go through the platform’s privacy settings to make sure their information and activity is secure. Tell them that they should only connect with and talk to people that they know in real life.
- Describe positive and negative online behavior. It’s healthy to speak nicely to others online, in a similar way that you’d speak to them in person. Depending on your child’s age, you may let them know about cyberbullying and inappropriate messaging. Talk about how to recognize this negative online behavior and what to do if they see it or are the target of it.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Social Media
There are many types of social media platforms, all with their own pros and cons.
Generally speaking, advantages include:
Connection. Social media can let your children make connections all over the world. They can learn about different cultures and get educated on different people they might not know in person.
Stronger family ties. Social media can let your children connect to families that aren’t close by. They can form relationships that might otherwise not be an option for them.
Developing interests. On social media, your kids can find people that like the same things they do or feel the way they do. Having this knowledge that they aren’t alone can boost confidence and overall well-being.
Disadvantages and risks of social media usage include:
Cyberbullying. Bullying online can happen to them, or they can be responsible for doing it to others. Some children might not know the consequences of mean behavior online. They also might not know how to block someone who is harassing them online and are too embarrassed to seek help.
Depression. “Facebook depression” can occur when too much time online triggers depression in children and teens. The comparisons and standards that are shown on social media can increase negative thoughts and negative body image.
Meeting strangers. Your kids might know to be cautious of strangers in person, but they might not online. Your kids can friend anyone online and they can take their conversations to less regulated apps that allow your kid and a stranger to connect. There’s no way of knowing if someone is who they say they are if you don’t know them in person.