#ParentProblem: Keeping kids safe online
Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, among many other social media platforms, all have become central to the daily life of teens. And although there are a number of benefits to these social media sites, there are also many dangerous consequences.
Due to social media, adolescents have become wired to seek immediate positive feedback from their peers via likes and comments on pictures and posts.
“The pressure to look good on social media is especially demanding for adolescent girls,” says Sarah Katula, an advanced practice nurse in psychiatry at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill. “Many young girls are becoming unhealthily obsessed with what they look like and how they compare to the pictures of actresses and models that they see on Facebook and Pinterest.”
Social media has also paved the way for cyber bullying. It is easier for children to threaten each other over the Internet than it is in person, and close to half of teens in the U.S. experience cyber bullying. Parents struggle to help their children who are being bullied online simply because they do not have access to what their children are doing online.
Internet use in general is difficult for parents to control because there is so much available and so little that parents can do to protect what their children do and see online.
“A parent’s sphere of influence is much smaller than it was 20 or 30 years ago,” says Katula.
She urges parents to be aware of the potential dangers of social media and to set limits regarding Internet and computer use at an early age so that healthy habits can be formed.
Katula offers the following tips for parents to help their adolescents surf the web safely:
- Limit screen time. Parents should either set a maximum amount of computer time per day or establish certain days and times that their kids can be online. For example, only between after school and before dinner on weekdays and only for two hours each day during the weekend.
- Set guidelines. Parents should lay down ground rules with their teens about what they can and cannot do online. For example, the computer can only be used for homework during the school week.
- Have a conversation. Parents should regularly engage their children in conversation about what they did online, what websites they visited and what they were looking for. This allows parents to encourage healthy Internet use and to easily know what their kids are doing online.
- Check usage. Most devices keep a history of all the sites that have been visited, so parents can see what their teens are looking at and make sure that they are only using sites that the parents approve of. Parental controls can also be set up to block sites that may have inappropriate content.
Katula stresses the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between parents and adolescents in order to work together to maximize the benefit of the Internet and social media.
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