It’s midnight on a Tuesday and your child is up in her room sending silly Snapchats to her friends. You can see her bedroom light is off but the bright light from her cell phone is shining from her bed. You’ve told her twice that it is time to put away social media and go to bed. You finally get a response: “C’mon! Just one more minute!” (Sigh.) Standing outside her room, you reflect on the child you saw this morning, overtired and sleep deprived of doing the same thing the night before. What is there to do?
Many parents today are finding themselves in a constant power struggle with their children when it comes to social media use. The perpetual need for kids to check their phones to see if a new picture was posted on Instagram and the increasing number of popular apps can lead to challenges in daily family life. Parents trying to set limits on the use of electronics are frequently experiencing tension with their children who are working hard to explain, and often defend, the importance of social media to them. Children and teenagers are growing up in a world where most have a smartphone, providing them constant access to the internet, videos, TV shows, social media apps, and gaming. Now, what can parents do to acknowledge this change in our world and also continue having time to connect with their children (device free!)?
Here are some helpful tips for parents to consider when it comes to their children’s social media use:
- Validate your child when he is sharing with you how important his friends are to him and how he needs to respond to the group text chat. As your child gets older, friends become more important and social media is a way he stays connected to his friends. Validate that you understand the importance of his friendships and support your child’s social life online and off. When your child feels validated and heard by you, he is more likely to feel comfortable sharing with you what’s on his mind in the future.
- Set limits. Limit setting is an important part of the discipline that will help your child eventually parent herself. For example: Avoid exposure to devices or screens for 1 hour before bedtime. Do not let your child sleep with devices such as smartphones and your child will be better rested the next day. Other limits that tend to work with kids include 1) setting rules on the daily amount of time your child can spend on social media and 2) keeping the family computer in a common area of the home. When you encounter push-back, remember that validating your child’s feelings will help them calm and be more likely to respect your limits.
- Plan media-free time. Set aside time without devices such as having family dinners or taking a walk outside together. Remember: Set an example and turn off the TV and put your smartphone away during media-free times with your family. Also, children are always watching you and how you behave, so use these opportunities as a chance to model healthy social media use for your family.
- Proceed with caution. Talk with your children and teens about online behavior and safety. This includes treating others with respect online, avoiding cyberbullying and sexting, being wary of online solicitations, and safeguarding privacy. Remind your child of the possible risks of sharing too much personal information.
- Consult for support. Use sites like Common Sense Media to help you decide if movies, TV shows, apps, and videos games are content and age appropriate for your children.
Navigating the digital world of social media is not easy. We are all learning how to manage the ever-changing high-tech world today’s children are growing up in, and the above tips may help ease the process for you and your family.