The American Pediatric Association has recently released a report that describes the increase in Internet-related problems for preteens and teens.
While the report shows some positive benefits of adolescent use of online social media, they site three worrisome problems: cyberbullying/online harassment, sexting, and Facebook depression.
Facebook depression, according to the report, is defined as “depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression. Acceptance by and contact with peers is an important element of adolescent life. The intensity of the online world is thought to be a factor that may trigger depression in some adolescents. As with offline depression, preadolescents and adolescents who suffer from Facebook depression are at risk for social isolation and sometimes turn to risky Internet sites and blogs for “help” that may promote substance abuse, unsafe sexual practices, or aggressive or self-destructive behaviors.”
The solution to Facebook depression (as well as online safety issues for kids) isn’t rocket-science. We identify five simple things parents can do.
1. Spend more time—a lot more time—with your kids. Don’t feel you have to plan something special: just spending time together, one on one, and showing them that you are willing to talk about what’s important to them is what counts. Even activities like baking cookies, playing a sport, or going for a walk are fine. Even doing chores together is something you can do.
Some research shows that the quantity of time you spend with your kids can be more important than the quality. Half an hour a week of one-on-one bonding is nice, but spending several hours each evening together as a family can have an even greater impact.
In traditional cultures and even in some Western families today, children are taught that their relationship with their parents is the most important relationship in their lives (at least until they become adults, and form new primary relationships). This takes effort on the part of parents.
2. Create a family tech-room. Computers are the new TV. Remember playrooms and family rooms? All computers, cell-phones, Ipods must be used in a public family space, just like the televisions of what I guess now is yesteryear. You can have a homework quiet time rule if necessary. If you have the room, this is a truly amazing preventative (we know a family who does this). You will not only be able to keep an eye out for your kids’ safety, you’ll send the subtle message that being together is what’s really important and that family comes first. Parents: Your kids do NOT need privacy online. You can help them establish safe privacy and safe personal boundaries in other areas of their lives.
3. Get a strong Internet safety filter. Parental controlled Internet filters can help you do your job. You’re the parent so you get to make the decisions that will keep your kids safe. Can kids bypass filters? Some of them, yes. Comparison shop.
4. Set curfews and time-limits. Just like bedtimes (hey, even adults need bedtimes), setting curfews and time-limits for non-school related computer use is essential. If you aren’t ready for solution number 5, below start by limiting social media use. For example, no non-school related computer use after 7:00 for younger pre-teens and 9:00 for teens is one way to go. Plus, limit non-school related computer use to 30 minutes. That might seem draconian from your teen’s standpoint, but if your kids have after-school lessons, sports, homework, chores, and are spending time with family and friends, there won’t be much time left over for social media.
5. Rethink and restructure your family culture. Ban social media! Don’t worry, you’re not the only parent doing this—there are many local groups of parents doing this. Schools are asking parents to ban social media, too. Get together with your kids’ friends’ parents. Many of them feel exactly the same way you do.
Banning it will be difficult. But will it be worth it? Do a cost-benefit analysis of the use of social media.What are the benefits? What are the problems (and potential dangers)? Is it time well spent?
It’s best to begin building values obviously, when children are young. We love the idea of showing children what’s wonderful about life, but we also believe that it’s good to openly tell children (at an appropriate age), the things that are dangerous or not consistent with your values. We know this goes against the conventional wisdom, and we know it’s important for your children to have friendships, however, if the medium in which those friendships take place is social media, safety should be your number one priority. How to prevent the problems of social media’s impact on your preteens and teens is up to you.
*Diagram of social media by Khalid Albaih.