When kids are learning to ride a bicycle, we give them padding. When they swim in the sea, we tell them stay close so we can see them. Parents always put their children’s well-being first. They do whatever it takes to protect them. They teach them about Stranger Danger Road Code, and other ills to avoid.
Today, parents face a new monster. Seemingly benign at first, social media’s impact suggest we try to keep our children safe from its perceived downsides. “There are ample indicators that social media can also have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents,” says American surgeon Dr Viveck Murphy. He and others are concerned that we should be wary of the risks social media pose for our children.
Because they are in a critical development period as they search for identity and self-actualization children are more susceptible to societal pressures, peer opinions and comparisons.
Online, they are exposed to dangerous and inappropriate conversations that can trigger eating disorders, self-harm and other damaging behaviours. And in a space like social media, where cyberbullying runs rampant, a child’s perception of self can be easily damaged. Children who spend most of their time online lose sleep, do little exercise and have degraded social skills, all harmful to a child’s health and well-being.
Given the severity of these threats, it’s important parents intervene, as they would in the physical world. Parents must control the amount of time their children spend online daily. Perhaps they can implement a “no screen” dinner, meaning no technological devices should be used at the evening meal. This encourages a space to bond with family and help to sharpen children’s communication and social skills. Instituting a family media plan is another way for parents to set boundaries for their online use and to monitor it.
Tech companies that own social media have some work to do, too. They should set boundaries that limit children’s exposure to harm. That might mean curating what content appears on underage profiles. Although most online platforms have age limits, our youngsters get around them easily. Montana may pose a challenge though, because the state has banned TikTok, perhaps the most popular social media platform with young people today.
We are aware that social media can be positive spaces for those growing up. They give children a sense of community and encourage self-expression. These platforms can be educational and informative, and they certainly can entertain your children. But they are only worth it if they do no harm.