Social media has become so pervasive that we’ve been made to believe that it’s impossible to live without. Many of us have considered deleting our social media accounts in the past. For some of us, it’s become a deeply troubling position. We believe that our connections may be compromised, our work may suffer, we may miss out on important information.
We’ve become attached to our social media accounts and our cell phones. And we’re starting to see how it’s compromising our health. Recent studies show that social media has caused higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression. Social media use and time online is increasing exponentially. This year teens spend up to nine hours a day on social platforms. In 2017 the average American adult spent 5 hours a day on their phone — that’s a 20% increase since 2015. Many of us have felt that sense of alarm when we grab at our pockets to check if we still have our devices with us.
This experience personally brought me to a troubling revelation, at what point did the product of a private company become so deeply interwoven with my life that it’s become difficult to consider living without it?
That’s troubling for me, but it begs the question: what will the consequences be for our children? As a Commissioner on the Board of Education, questions like this have become an important part of my focus. I have been working closely with our Department of Technology and Student Support Services Office to create a set of guidelines that families can use to start conversations with their children about appropriate social media usage.
To be clear, I’m not advocating banning devices and social media, nor do I have a fear of technology. Quite the contrary, as the leader of Mission Bit, I’ve been working diligently to expand Computer Science Education to low-income communities. I believe when our students learn how to build with technology it can do wonders to change their lives. However, that does not mean we shouldn’t be researching how to be responsible with our technology use to prevent an over-reliance on our devices.
Here are six questions parents should be asking when it comes to their child’s use of social media and technology.
1. Is my child safe online?
Sign a Family Media Agreement with your child. They’ll know exactly what their expectations are and what your role as a parent should be. With options for children K-12 it’s easy to create boundaries and rules that parents and students can trust.
2. How can I learn more about social media?
Check out these resources that fully cover Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook. You’ll learn about what these sites are and why people use them. Plus you’ll get an idea of exactly how safe it is to use these sites and what you can do to make the practice safer. This list of resources also covers some of the harder topics.
Issues surrounding body image and social media are very apparent. The two included sheets tackle the idea of body image and selfies. Photos on social media are used as a way to get likes and achieve popularity. Cracking down on how your student uses social media to post selfies isn’t going to solve a body image issue or stop the selfies. Social media is used as an expressive media for sharing images and ideas.
3. What is too much screen time?
Your student probably has to log onto a screen for school work and communication. They will also spend time watching videos and logging onto social media. There isn’t a universally agreed upon screen time recommendation. The amount of hours in a day varies from study to study. It is important to find balance though. Check out these tips for managing screen time in your family. You can start by tracking current screen time usage and have an open conversation about limiting it.
How can I use parental controls to keep my children safe?
Parental controls are especially helpful for parents with younger children. While all children should be monitored while online, parental controls can ensure that your children are not accessing sites or videos inappropriate for their age. This page has helpful videos demonstrating parental controls on iPhones, Androids, Windows 10 computers, and Macs.
4. What is a digital footprint and what is private online?
Nothing is truly private online. Any comment, post, or photo can be captured and shared for years to come. If you’re smart about using social media and the internet this should never be a problem. You can find some helpful tips for protecting you and your family members here.
5. What can I do to prevent cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is a serious issue that impacts many students every year. Social workers and counselors can be a good source for getting help. Use these cyberbullying resources to talk to your child about cyberbullying and digital drama. Don’t let the student in your life get caught up in harmful conversations online.
6. How do I handle inappropriate content?
Tackling inappropriate content with your student is a tough and many times uncomfortable conversation to have. These documents can help the interaction run a little smoother. They cover issues like sexting, violent content, and sexual imagery.
Sexting — You’ve probably heard of sexting. It’s a very real part of many teens communication online or over text. Sexting has consequences that can remain for years to come.
Violent content — Video games are often filled with violent and graphic content. Some even contain violent sexual images. These images affect developing brains.
Sexual imagery — Sexual imagery and pornography are increasingly easy to find on the internet. Talk to your student about the This is an awkward conversation, but its an important one to have.
Technology isn’t something for students to fear or avoid. In fact, it offers the chance for more learning opportunities, allowed us to create connections, and enhanced our lives in ways large and small. That said, we have to pay attention what the short and long term health implications will be as a result of increased technology use.
I hope these resources are helpful. If you check out any of them and start a conversation with your kids comment below. It will help readers get an idea of your experience.