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Parenting in the social media age

social media parenting

Talk to any parent about what challenges they face raising kids and teens in today’s world, and social media is sure to come up. Many moms and dads worry about the ways social media could be affecting their child’s development, health and safety. Social media can also put pressure on parents seeing what their own peers are posting. And while those worries are normal, they can be balanced out with some helpful and hopeful information.

Pros and cons of social media for teens and kids

Positives:

  • Connect over shared experiences. Kids and teens crave belonging and need to find peers who understand them—especially if they are dealing with difficult issues such as identity exploration, life changes or health conditions. For young people who don’t find a sense of community and affirmation within their day-to-day circles, online groups can be a lifesaver.
  • Feel less isolated. Just because they’re not always getting together face-to-face doesn’t discount the fact that some kids find connecting with friends over social media to be a satisfying experience. Many kids report that it has a positive effect on their relationships.
  • Absorb positive messages. Campaigns such as It Gets Better have a positive impact on kids’ and teens’ self-esteem and mental health. Messages that they might not find from other people in their lives can go a long way in building resilience and hope for the future.

Negatives:

  • Cyberbullying or cyberstalking. Teens can become victims of online bullying or stalking by people they know. Some people will say and do hurtful things that they wouldn’t say and do in person.
  • Predatory interactions. Not everyone on social media has your child’s best interest at heart. Some will try to take advantage of unsuspecting kids. Privacy settings are especially important for young people.
  • Trolls. Negativity runs rampant online, and some people are determined to make hurtful comments about strangers. Once again, privacy settings come in handy.
  • Addictive or compulsive relationship to social media. The more time kids spend online, the more they suffer withdrawal. Limits and breaks are important for establishing and maintaining healthy habits.
  • Risk of compromised privacy or identity theft. Without realizing it, kids may share information that puts them at risk. They need help making smart decisions.
  • Comparison. It’s easy to think that others have it so much better just by what they post on social media. Teens and kids (and adults, for that matter) need regular reminders of what’s real and what’s not.
  • Withdrawal from real life. The excitement and immediacy of social media can make everyday life seem a little dull. Limits are important for balance.
  • More sedentary activities. While kids are fully engaged in social media, they’re not being active. A sedentary lifestyle is associated with feelings of depression and anxiety. Movement is important for developing brains and bodies.
  • Post regret. Young people are naturally impulsive. They lack the ability to make smart long-range decisions. That can result in posting something they wish they could take back. Unfortunately, once something is posted, it’s never totally gone.
  • Exposure to inappropriate content. The sheer volume of images and words online flashing in front of their eyes makes it more possible for kids to see something intended for an older audience. Keeping the social media conversation open makes it easier to talk about this content if and when it comes up. Remember: parental controls exist for a reason.

Pros and cons of social media for parents

Positives:

  • Learn from other parents. If you follow parents who are honest about their parenting experiences, you may pick up some handy tips and tricks to add to your own toolkit, or at least just commiserate and laugh together. Be choosy about who you friend and follow. Keep close with the ones who keep it real and don’t make you feel bad about your parenting decisions. Press mute on the high-pressure perfectionist parents. Mom guilt and dad guilt is real.
  • Connect socially. Between work, school, kids’ activities and family commitments, it can be hard for parents to make time for a social life. That’s when connecting with friends online can fill the gap until it’s possible to get together IRL (in real life).
  • Find valuable information. Experts on parenting, child development, health and other relevant family topics do have a presence on social media. It’s worth checking out trusted resources that could make your life less stressful and more fulfilling.
  • Keep family and friends informed and involved. When relatives and family friends live out of town, it’s nice to give them regular updates without having to make a dozen different phone calls or send photos. Social media can make memory keeping easy and fun.

Negatives:

  • Compare ourselves to others. It’s easy to get down on ourselves and our lives when we’re constantly scrolling through perfectly posed family vacation photos, high-achieving kid updates and syrupy sweet spouse tributes online. It takes presence of mind to remember that we’re looking at people’s highlight reels, not their real lives.
  • Seek surface-level attention versus meaningful connection. Being a parent can sometimes be lonely, it’s no wonder so many parents turn to social media for connection. The problem is when we get more hung up on getting likes than strengthening real relationships.
  • Feel bad about what we are or aren’t doing as parents. There’s a special brand of "fear of missing out" for parents. Every decision we make concerning our kids can be an opportunity for self-doubt, and social media only fuels that anxiety.
  • Find inaccurate information. Plenty of everyday people and some people pretending to be experts online can lead parents astray with attention-grabbing headlines. It’s important that we do our homework and check out the source before we start following the advice given.
  • Have trouble being in the moment. When we try to capture every mini milestone or every hilarious thing our kids say, it takes away from our ability to just be present and enjoy the experience. Our attempt not to miss capturing a moment actually makes us miss it in real time.
  • Overshare. Parents sometimes post about their kids and unintentionally violate their child’s privacy, or at least embarrass them. It’s always good to consider who will see the post, how our child may feel about it now or in the future and why we are posting the content in the first place.

Tips for parents 

Set expectations upfront.

  • Start talking about this early, before your kids are using social media.
  • Talk about how the values and guidelines you follow in real life apply online, too.
  • Make a family media plan together.

Set a good example.

  • Model how to be a good digital citizen: Be kind. Be safe. Be honest. Be aware.
  • Model respectful disagreement online.
  • Don’t post things you don’t want to be around forever.
  • Don’t post things that don’t belong to you. (Ask kids if they are OK with you posting about them.)
  • Follow social media platform rules.
  • Stick to healthy limits around social media use.

Set the right tone.

  • Talk about social media at times when they’re not in trouble.
  • Ask questions. Be curious. Do more listening than talking.
  • Use stories of other people’s social media mistakes to talk about important issues without triggering defensiveness.
  • If you have a concern, address it right away. Trust your gut!

Set limits and stick to them.

  • Time Limits. Decide on an appropriate number of minutes to spend on social media per day. Help them identify fun activities other than social media.
  • Location Limits. Charge phones and tablets someplace other than the bedroom. Make a no-tech rule at mealtimes.
  • Privacy Limits. Friend your child on all social media platforms. Teach them about privacy settings and choose appropriate settings to keep them safe. Talk about ways to stay safe, like not sharing personal information, turning off location tracking, not using the phone while driving, etc.

Social media mantras for kids and parents

  • Don’t compare your behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlight reel.
  • Think twice, post once!

Trustworthy resources for parents


Child Psychology

Child Psychologist; Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics University of Missouri Kansas City School of Medicine