With the rapid growth of social media, being online has become part of a teenager’s daily life. Social media is a ‘double-edged sword’ for parents. It poses benefits, but also exposes youth to risks.
Whether it is posting a dance to TikTok, sharing images to Facebook or posting a ‘story’ to Instagram different platforms are used widely.
Australians aged 14 and over spend an average of almost six hours per week on social media.
Social media is a set of web applications that enable teens to produce and share content.
Webpages with opportunity for social interaction may also be considered a social media site. This may include gaming sites and virtual worlds, or video streaming sites like Youtube or blogs.
Social media can affect your child’s wellbeing if you are not setting expectations for healthy use.
Dr Anna Cohen, Clinical Director at Kids and Co believes the key is creating “a really good balance for young people for social media.”
Most risk occurs where youth are accessing internet under the minimal age without parents’ permission.
A 2012 study reported that 92% of Australians aged 10 to 11 had used social media networking sites. Despite the minimum age requirements, 61% of 8-12 year olds had used YouTube and 32% had used Facebook.
Many social media platforms have in-app features and minimal age requirements to assist parents.
Social media can affect your child’s wellbeing and lead to negative mental health consequences in children and young people.
“Cyberbullying has become a thing now because it pops into their heads and homes and every facet of the kids life.”
Dr Cohen, Clinical Director, Kids and Co
Online harassment is performed through social media through any individual that communicates hostile or aggressive messages intended to cause discomfort or harm.
A survey by Common Sense in 2018 revealed most teen’s favourite form of communication is now ‘texting’. Less than one third said they prefer chatting face-to-face.
Many teens and children were utilising social media during the pandemic to connect with others. However, research shows that teens who spend more time on social media feel more isolated.
Dr Cohen believes it is up to parents to set up expectations for healthy media use.
“Remember that young people connect through their online life. Parents have to be really careful with setting up guidelines.”
She suggests parents to review whether they want to limit the hours of use and decide when it is acceptable for children to be on their device at home. For example, your child may not be allowed to use their phone during “homework time” or in a specific area of the home.
“At my house my girls know there is no phone at the dinner table. Family time is happening and in-person communication is happening. Parents have to find an approach that fits them.”
Social Media can affect your child’s wellbeing if they are exposed to negative and potentially harmful practices.
One in four children between 14 to 17 have “seen or experienced something on the internet in the last year that bothered them”.
Australian Communications and Media Authority
Examples of potentially harmful content can include pro-eating disorder sites, promotion of self-harm, radicalisation, aggressive, violent or sexual imagery.
Cyberbullying and exposure to other offensive or harmful online content may cause anxiety, or intensify symptoms of depression for teens.
Social media can also take over the time children spend on healthy activities. Dr Cohen believes issues could arise when children begin experiencing sleep problems, issues with school performance and become less active.
Approximately 60% of psychological distress can be attributed to disrupted sleep.
Checking electronics right before sleep can disrupt a good night’s sleep. Light from digital screens have a stimulating effect on our internal rhythms and melatonin levels that control the sleep cycle.
Your child may also excessively use social media before bed if they believe they are missing social interactions.
You may consider setting boundaries or rules around your child’s use of technology before bed.
Studies show that social media can have positive effects on youth and adolescents, including:
These benefits have also improved the social and emotional life of teens during a crucial age in their development.
“I want parents to figure that out themselves.”
Dr Cohen believes it is a very personal decision and there is no generic answer.
However she is not a believer in banning social media.
“They’ll be on the outskirts of their peer group. Social media is how they connect with others. It’s often how they make friendships… and develop relationships”.
A key strategy to keep your child safe online is to choose safe settings and set parental controls.
This could block your child from unwanted contact and privacy issues.
Dr Cohen believes it is up to caregiving adults to set good example and really talk with kids and young people about ‘how to be a good human online, and be safe online’.
“Communication is key… but remember this is how they connect.”