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Kids and social media: What parents should know

As parents, it's hard to navigate this new, modern part of parenting -- social media.

NORFOLK, Va. — This holiday season, smartphones and other devices are a popular gift choice. However, it often opens the door for children to have access to social media.

Social media can be a wonderful thing. It connects people to others all over the world and allows everyone to stay in touch with friends and family members.

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However, as parents, it's hard to navigate this new, modern part of parenting. Adolescence, especially, is a time when our children are becoming more independent and beginning to separate as individuals. Parents need to step back and let them make mistakes, but they must also teach and guide them to be responsible internet users.

Social media can lead to higher levels of anxiety in children, according to CHKD. It creates a sense of isolation and it promotes unrealistic expectations.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following:

  • It's OK for your teen to be online. Online relationships are part of typical adolescent development. Social media can support teens as they explore and discover more about themselves and their place in the grown-up world. Just be sure your teen is behaving appropriately in both the real and online worlds. Many teens need to be reminded that a platform's privacy settings do not make things actually "private" and that images, thoughts, and behaviors teens share online will instantly become a part of their digital footprint indefinitely. Keep lines of communication open and let them know you're there if they have questions or concerns. 
  • Warn children about the importance of privacy and the dangers of predators and sexting. Teens need to know that once content is shared with others, they will not be able to delete or remove it completely and includes texting of inappropriate pictures. They may also not know about or choose not to use privacy settings, and they need to be warned that sex offenders often use social networking, chat rooms, e-mail, and online gaming to contact and exploit children.
  • Make your own family media use plan. Media should work for you and within your family values and parenting style. When used thoughtfully and appropriately, media can enhance daily life. But when used inappropriately or without thought, media can displace many important activities such as face-to-face interaction, family-time, outdoor-play, exercise, unplugged downtime and sleep.
  • Treat media as you would any other environment in your child's life. The same parenting guidelines apply in both real and virtual environments. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Know your children's friends, both online and off. Know what platforms, software, and apps your children are using, what sites they are visiting on the web, and what they are doing online.
  • Set limits and encourage playtime. Media use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits. Unstructured and offline play stimulates creativity. Make unplugged playtime a daily priority, especially for very young children.
  • Screen time shouldn't always be alone time. Co-view, co-play and co-engage with your children when they are using screens - it encourages social interactions, bonding, and learning. Play a video game with your kids. It's a good way to demonstrate good sportsmanship and gaming etiquette. Watch a show with them; you will have the opportunity to introduce and share your own life experiences and perspectives, and guidance. Don't just monitor children online, interact with them - you can understand what they are doing and be a part of it.
  • Be a good role model. Teach and model kindness and good manners online. Because children are great mimics, limit your own media use. In fact, you'll be more available for and connected with your children if you're interacting, hugging and playing with them rather than simply staring at a screen. 
  • Know the value of face-to-face communication. Very young children learn best through two-way communication. Engaging in back-and-forth "talk time" is critical for language development. Conversations can be face-to-face or, if necessary, by video chat with a traveling parent or far-away grandparent. Research has shown that it's that "back-and-forth conversation" that improves language skills—much more so than "passive" listening or one-way interaction with a screen.

Parents can learn more at CHKD's free screenings of two documentaries about social media and awareness around anxiety.  Click here to learn more about the films "Like" and "Angst."