Five Tips for Internet Savvy Parenting
Melissa J Johnson, PhD and Vicki Chiang, PsyD
In a conversation about social media and kids, you may see us hold up our right hands – the index and middle fingers forming the shape of a V. No, we’re not giving you the peace sign. At least not right now. We’re providing a visual illustration of the pathway to freedom and responsibility when it comes to social media.
We start by giving young people a little responsibility matched with a little freedom (the base of the V). Then gradually and systematically, we increase both freedom and responsibility. As Dr. Chiang notes, kids need to learn to swim before jumping into the deep end. Social media is the deep end!
What are the small initial freedoms and responsibilities we can give young people as they build their skills for screen time?
- First, consider your child’s age and development. If parents are ready to introduce their toddlers (18 – 24 months) to screens, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests limited use of only high-quality programs or apps that can be shared and co-viewed. While the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that each family create their own individualized family plan for screen time, their former guidelines can serve as a reference. For children two years old through the elementary school years, no more than one hour of screen time was recommended, including some co-viewing and shared screen time. For pre-teens and teens, a maximum of two hours was the suggestion. And, it’s never too early to teach media literacy. Kids of all ages can learn about digital footprints, digital citizenship, privacy, and safety.
- Consider “whole child” activities. Brainstorm activities as a family. What unplugged activities are engaging and fun for you all? Think about activities that involve the five senses. Go on a listening hike – and savor the sounds of nature. Set out a platter of colorful summer fruit – and do some mindful eating. Do some family art or collage – using scented markers, fun photos, and paper of interesting textures.
- Consider your child’s social skills. We all need face-to-face time with others. Children need in-person time with their peers to develop their social skills. Pro-social, in-person skills can serve as a springboard for developing effective online social skills. Helpful skills include perspective taking, empathy, assertiveness, boundary setting, and conflict resolution strategies.
- Think about your own screen time. Yes, we’re the role models! Many of us are surprised to discover how much time we actually spend on our own screens. Download an app that will track your online time and activities. This can be helpful in raising your awareness. The information will help facilitate your family communication about each person’s online activities. You’re all in this together!
- Develop your family plan. Be sure to keep in mind the “increasing freedom/increasing responsibility” motto. Start simple and be engaged.
- Keep educating yourself! Learn about online sites frequented by youth. Some sites and apps provide access to other sites you may not have previewed. The latter may not be the best for your new social media user.
- With younger children, have full access to their social media sites – and use your access appropriately. For example, don’t over comment on postings. You may want to set up agreements as a family about each person’s participation on social media and who has access to what.
- Monitor! Understand your young person’s habits. Use software programs if needed to help track or limit online activity. If you’re using a tracking program, be transparent about it because – guess what? Tricking kids or snooping on them will only breed more sneaky behavior on their parts. Better to dialogue as a family about the tools you are all using to track behavior. By the way, be willing to track your own behavior. Remember, you’re all in this together.
- Have discussions! Talk a lot about online safety and social media in our lives. What are the pros and cons? It can be especially helpful to involve your children in a discussion of the recommendations in this article. The more they’re engaged in dialogue and decision-making with you, the more effective your family plan will be.
SOME RESOURCES YOU MAY WANT TO CHECK OUT:
American Academy of Pediatrics – Screen Time Guidelines
American Academy of Pediatrics – Family Media Plan