Social media plays a huge role in the lives of many children and teens, serving as a virtual meeting place for friends, a source of entertainment or a learning tool. But for some, social media can become all-consuming, stress-inducing or even unsafe. Today, researchers have identified some evidence-based practices to help ensure that children and teens’ use of digital devices remains a healthy and safe way to connect with others and the world around them.
“The technology and platforms we use every day continue to evolve, and sometimes it feels like our children are a step ahead of us in what they find and use online,” said Megan Moreno, MD, MPH, MSEd, FAAP P, co-medical director of the American Academy of Pediatrics National Center of Excellence on Social Media and Youth Mental Health.
“It’s helpful for families to step back and look at how each member spends time on devices and interacting with social media. All of us can benefit by learning how to think critically about what we do online and how it makes us feel. As a pediatrician and a mom, I recommend keeping the door open to these conversations.”
The AAP offers resources for families, clinicians and educators that includes a Q and A portal where you may submit questions that expert staff and pediatricians will answer to support the mental health of children and adolescents as they navigate social media. In addition, the AAP has developed 12 tips for families on healthy digital and social media use:
- Build a family media plan that balances time with and without devices. Work together to set rules about media use so you and your children agree on how devices fit into your lives. Talk about which tech-free activities you want to make time for on a regular basis.
- Create screen-free times and places in your home, such as meals and bedtime. Set do-not-disturb on phones when you want undistracted time. For younger children, it helps to have consistent and predictable media routines and time limits. Use built-in timers to make it easier for young children to transition away when time is up.
- Have regular discussions as a family about your online activities. Discuss new areas of learning, fun discoveries, as well as difficult experiences – for both parents and children. This fosters open discussion about a sometimes-challenging topic.
- Talk about social media. Start regular, open-minded conversations with your children (even the youngest ones!) about their media use, and yours. You don’t have to be an expert on each platform to have meaningful discussions! Ask questions like: What do you like about social media platforms? How do you feel when you’re on social media? And when I’m on social media? Have you seen anything concerning?
- Make sure your kids know they can come to you about their experiences online, even if they feel embarrassed or worried. Let them know you’re there to support them through challenges – since we’re all learning as we go.
- Help children understand what’s real and what’s edited, how to recognize ads or inappropriate content, and when influencers are being authentic versus outrageous.
- Talk about how media and emotions connect. We sometimes crave social media when we’re stressed or want to share our joy. At the same time, what we see online shapes how we feel. This is an important insight for both children and parents.
- Set a good example. Include your own habits in discussions about social media usage. Be aware of when your attention is on your device and what you may be role modeling. When you must use your device around your family, tell your kids what you’re doing and how you’re supporting others online.
- Optimize your family’s online experience. Choose quality content to use together as a family. Also empower your children to decide when content isn’t worth their time or attention.
- When your child or adolescent starts a new social media or video game account, set privacy settings at the most secure level and discuss safety rules for who they can chat with online, how to report problematic posts, and whether they can make purchases. Familiarize yourself with how the platform works through reading about it or having your child take you on a tour.
- Watch for signs of problematic media use. In adolescents, this could include withdrawing from friendships and hobbies. In younger children, signs include arguing about media constantly and lack of interest in other activities. At all ages, another red flag is if time on social media, devices, or video games interferes with physical activity, healthy eating or bedtime.
- For parents, considering when and whether to get your child their own smartphone is a big decision. There are several factors to consider, including the child’s interest in this responsibility and their past media patterns. The AAP has a tool to help guide these conversations: The PhoneReadyQuiz, located here: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/Pages/PhoneReadyQuiz.aspx.
“Media are often designed to attract our attention and keep it as long as possible, which can easily elbow out the other daily activities that make our families feel sane” said Jenny Radesky, MD, FAAP, co-medical director of the National Center of Excellence on Social Media and Youth Mental Health and chair of the AAP Council on Communications and Media.
“We know that children thrive emotionally when they have time for moving their bodies, playful interaction with family and friends, and adequate sleep. We encourage children to be involved in creating a plan that balances all those important activities in their day.”
For more information, go to AAP.org/socialmedia.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.