One of the most prevalent areas of the internet is, without doubt, the social media sites. Whether you like the short and sharp of Twitter, the visual imagery of Instagram or the variation of Facebook, most adults use social media on a daily basis. This means that children are aware that such sites exist and are desperate to get involved. Some of their friends may already be on the sites or have access to them and pressure on parents to give in and open up the internet to their kids is massive. But is social media damaging your child’s health. Here we look at the pros and cons.
Facebook is without doubt one of the most powerful means of communication in our modern world having surpassed email communications. There are a great many positives to the site, such as keeping in touch with people, quickly sharing experiences and news as well as learning something new and even relaxing while playing games. But there is a dark side to the site and it is this dark side that can strike fear into a parent’s heart.
One of the most comprehensive studies so far of the website and its overuse in teenagers found a correlation between high use of the site and narcissism. Other disorders such as antisocial personality disorder, borderline paranoia and histrionic personality disorder are all connected with overuse of the site. The study looked at the strength of use as a predictor of disorders and even against other factors such as age, gender and education, Facebook came out as one of the three strongest predictors.
Another study focused more on the link between violent behaviour and isolation with increased media exposure. This came in the form of TV and video games as well as the internet. What it found was that kids who watched violent shows were more likely to be aggressive but also to have less friends and be remote socially from their peers. This led to an increase in either being the bully due to their aggressiveness or being bullied due to their isolation.
Anyone that has been around adolescent girls will know that whereas once they jumped on the phone to their friends as soon as anything happened, today they text, instant message or use social media to communicate. However, a study of this age group found that girls who were quickest to share their problems, particularly romantic ones, via these outlets were at a higher risk of showing depressive symptoms. Part of this is because kids can ‘co-ruminate’ – this is effectively talking to their friends about their problems without finding any solutions.
Then there are the problems that we hear about on the TV and in the newspapers all the time – issues such as cyberbullying, sexting and online exploitation. There are the terrors that haunt the modern parents and while all think their kids would never get involved in such a thing, children are by nature experimental and the worst of society can exploit this.
While it may be tempting to cut off their access to social media and prevent them from exposure, this isn’t a practical method. And in a way, there are a lot of benefits to these sites as well as the internet in general that completely removing from their life would see them miss out on. Everything from homework help to researching things they have become interested in, meeting new friends and learning about different cultures are all possible. So how do you approach children and social media?
One of the most consistent pieces of advice is to understand the sites yourself – have your own profile, be friends (or whatever the term is) with your kids on the site as a condition of their use. Make sure you understand what the kids are doing on the site and what it popular with their friends to be able to engage them somewhat.
As your children grow up, what they do with the internet evolves. Tweens are more likely to use the sites to message and text their friends while teens use Facebook and other platforms more comprehensively. So as a parent, asking about what’s happening and who they’ve been talking to should be as natural as asking how their day at school went. That way they will get used to sharing their experiences from the beginning and are less likely to think they are being interrogated.
Make sure the computer is in a public part of the house so you can glance at the screen as you are passing. Don’t stand watching over their shoulder or they will simply change what they are doing, make a casual monitoring part of your normal routine. Also, you can monitor how long they have been online easily.
From the first day they go online, educate them about what the internet is. Nothing ever goes away on the net and a photo, status update or other information will be available for all time. This means that sending a fun image of themselves to a close friend now could come back and haunt them in twenty years’ time. While this might be hard for them to image, tell them to think of it this way – never do or say anything online that you wouldn’t do in the real world.
Computer games may seem like a waste of time but there are plenty that can be beneficial and some that are even educational. A study showed that in young people they were more likely to be helpful to their parents when they had been placing pro-social games than neutral or violent games. And then there is the fact about games that has been the case since before social media was invented – hand-eye coordination, puzzle solving skills, education through fun, all of these elements still exist. Often with games through Facebook and other platforms, there is a limit to how long they can be played due to their format and this too naturally restricts their game play.
The overall message from the experts is that social media isn’t going anywhere so there’s no point ignoring or banning it. By monitoring your kids and watching what they do in a quiet and understated way, you can watch for problems and hopefully they can enjoy a fulfilling and fun online life.