Over the past several years, the age at which children have begun utilizing social media has gotten younger and younger. As more children are being given cell phones, tablets, and iPads at a younger age, the availability for accessing social media quickly and easily is now present at all times. Think about it....how many of the children you know between the ages of 9 and 17 have one (or more) of these devices? How many of the parents/caregivers of those children say that their kids never put those devices down? In these times, many tweens and teens are learning life lessons and growing up courtesy of social media instead of learning from their parents, caregivers, school, or in-person experiences.
Many of us have learned that an individual's brain isn't fully developed until the age of 25. If you think about that fact, that means tweens and teens who are accessing social media sometimes ten, fifteen, twenty times per day are doing so without having the ability to use the parts of the brain that control emotion, while also using the parts of the brain that control judgment, insight, and future-thinking. Due to this, we have seen an increase in tweens/teens who are engaging in behaviors over social media that they would not necessarily engage in in real life. The freedom of maintaining relationships without ever meeting or the idea of total anonymity has led children to make choices based on instant gratification.
This idea of tweens/teens using social media has become such an important topic, that there is a Federal law in place that prohibits children under the age of 13 from creating any social media accounts. If you have not heard about the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and you are in a caregiving role of a child, we highly recommend you do some research. This law can help protect your child from social media possibly negatively impacting his/her self-esteem, memory, and ability to connect with others.
Some tweens/teens can spend hours looking at Kylie Jenner's Instagram and become incredibly anxious or depressed because they don't look like her or they're not the youngest billionaire on Earth or because they can't afford one of her lipkits like all of their friends have. Just a few minutes browsing social media can truly have a lasting impact on anyone, regardless of age. As a parent/caregiver, you have options.
How to protect your child who is active on social media:
1. Monitor your child's social media, with their knowledge.
2. Whenever possible, add your child's social media account to your phone, so you can get real-time updates on their activity...of course, with their knowledge.
3. Keep an open dialogue about social media and the effects it can have on your child.
4. Limit the amount of time your child spends on social media daily.
5. Encourage your child to get out and socialize with other children his/her age in-person.
6. Educate your child on productive uses of social media and also warning signs of too much use or exposure to things you believe are not in their best interests.
7. Tell your child what your expectations are of their appropriate use of social media, and hold them accountable if they do not meet those expectations.
Remember....kids are kids. As mature and intelligent as they may be, they're still kids and our job is to protect them until they're old enough to make healthy, well-thought out decisions on their own.