Social media has become a part of the daily routine for many. Because it’s such a big part of our lives as a society, it’s unsurprising that people have started to ask how much is too much and how young is too young for social media. Statistics Canada has reported that 93% of youth between the age of 15 and 30 use social media. And 24% of teenagers claim they’re going online “almost constantly.”
As parents, we see these unhealthy behaviours and immediately wonder about the associated dangers. Although there are clear dangers linked to social media use in children and youth, there are benefits as well. As with many aspects of a child’s life, it’s a parent’s job to teach healthy behaviour and healthy tech use. It’s just another subject that parents have to add to their at-home curriculum in today’s modern age.
When it comes to the behaviours to watch on social media, there are a few that stand out as harmful and require a social media limit or rule.
What to Worry About & Look For
Many youths report that they’re sleeping with their phone nearby to hear either notifications or an alarm for school. As parents, we’re not doing much better, according to the same study.
Cyberbullying is a big concern for parents whose children want to use or already use social media platforms. There’s a warranted fear here, too. We’ve seen an increase in cyberbullying, and it’s been linked to depression as well as suicidal thoughts and behaviours.
“Stranger danger” on social media and online is another fear that keeps many parents up at night. Educate your children on technology that can track and locate where they are. These location pinning apps can tell a viewer where your child is located when they posted to the platform.
Perhaps the toughest issue for parents to create boundaries on is children comparing themselves to their friends’ curated social media lives. Unfortunately, you can’t create a social media limit or rule for the feelings your children may have. We struggle with this one, even as adults. It can be challenging to feel good about your own life when you spend so much time looking at all the exciting parts of everyone else’s.
What You Can Do
A helpful rule to avoid sleeping with phones is to leave them in another room to charge and to purchase an alarm clock so that your phone isn’t the answer for waking up.
When it comes to cyberbullying, the best course of action is to have open conversations with your children regarding appropriate online behaviour. If your child is being bullied online, they should be comfortable telling you. It’s also essential that your child understands how their own comments or interactions online can affect other children.
You should also share with them the importance of sharing information on social media. They should have a good grasp of how much information they should share and how personal information can be used by the wrong people. Make sure that your child has strong privacy settings on their social media, understands the importance of keeping personal data offline, and knows that if you’re not friends offline, you shouldn’t be friends online.
Be sure to talk with your child about how social media isn’t an accurate portrayal of their friends’ lives. Always comparing themselves to their friends can make a child feel inadequate amongst their peers or like they’re missing out. Having a conversation about the value of stepping away from screens and enjoying life is crucial. Phones actually track the amount of time we spend on social media accounts, so consider setting a daily maximum and turning the apps off for a bit each day.
Are There Actually Any Benefits?
It may not seem like there are many benefits to social media usage, but when used in moderation, it can be beneficial. All the fears associated with the negative aspects may leave you wanting to shelter your child from ever using social media at all, but your kids are going to find a way to go online. Instead, try setting good examples and creating social media limits for yourself to teach them healthy tech use at a young age.
Children who struggle in social situations may find it easier to engage with their peers and make meaningful friendships online. Social media is also an excellent way for children to find new hobbies and passions. We, as adults, also love social media for its ability to keep us connected to friends or family who may be far away — your children like that about it, too.
How Young Is Too Young?
There’s no one set age. Your child isn’t going to turn 12 and immediately be gifted a Facebook account, cell phone, and Instagram password. This is based on your child’s maturity and ability to follow the rules regarding social media use. As a parent, only you can make the decision as to whether or not your child is responsible enough. If they can talk to you about aspects of technology they don’t understand and can follow any family rules related to social media limits, then that may be the right age.
There are no clear answers and defined social media limits when it comes to raising a child in this digital age. All you can do is to set clear guidelines, keep communications open, and be a positive example of healthy tech use. If you need help setting up a healthy tech diet for you and your child, try our tech diet challenge as a jumping-off point to have these conversations.