Tech Talk: Impacts of Social Media on Children

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Social media opens up vast possibilities of connection to information unlike any technology the world has seen. Along with the many innovations, social media and the Internet present dangers to their users, especially younger ones.

According to a Pew Research Center Internet Project’s Teen Fact Sheet, 95 percent of teens aged 12 to 17 in the U.S. are online, and 81 percent of them use social media networking sites like Facebook. And younger kids are no strangers to tech either, with 72 percent of children age 8 and under using mobile devices for activities like playing games, watching videos or using apps, according to Common Sense Media.

There’s no denying that children are spending more time online (an average of 44.5 hours per week for children ages 8 to 18), and parents are looking for more ways to approach their children’s media use. Understanding the benefits and drawbacks of social media use can empower parents to address concerns and create learning opportunities with their children.

Benefits of social media

Social media sites are hubs for news, fresh ideas and opinion. Access to this information and its various sources offers benefits such as:

  • A platform for creative expressions through artwork, photography and poetry
  • Accessibility to research published by organizations and media
  • Enhancement of relationships with existing friends
  • Connection to educational resources and extracurricular activities
  • Support for common interests

Drawbacks of social media

Peer pressure is as common online as it is inside school hallways, and so parents continue to be concerned about the potential for cyber bullying. Beyond bullying, other drawbacks for children and teens on social media include:

  • Disruption of homework and sleep
  • Time wasting
  • Privacy risks
  • Potential damage to self-esteem due to comparison to other users’ self-presentation
  • Increase chances for anxiety from constant connection and conversations

Help the whole family “unplug.”

While some teens admit they’re “addicted” to technology, many of them long to disconnect from their devices. A survey conducted for Common Sense Media of teenagers indicated that 43% of respondents wished they could “unplug” sometimes, and 21 percent wished their parents would, too. Kids look to their parents for guidance to establish good habits, and you can help the whole family “unplug” from technology and connect more face-to-face.

  • Lead by example. If you want your child to curtail his or her social media consumption, lead by example. When you come into the home, do so without being on a phone call or checking email.
  • Establish technology-free places and times. Determine when and where everyone can use technology—for instance, a “no phone zone” at the dinner table—to demonstrate that quality time and support happens face-to-face.
  • Nix phone use in the car. Use the time in the car together on the way to and from school or other activities to talk with one another without devices.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers many resources to empower families to get the most out of online possibilities while staying safe. Talk to your child’s physician for more tips to keep a healthy balance between the face-to-face world and the online one.

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