One of the scariest moments of my parenting existence was the day my tween daughter asked if she could hop aboard the social media train. I mean, it made sense. At this point, half of her class had followed me on Instagram, and some of my youngest daughter's friends were also liking posts, Snapchatting away and lip syncing to Justin Bieber songs on Musical.ly.
Am I the only uncool mom who is so terrified of cyberbullying and child predators that I want to lock my daughter in a bubble and hide her away from social media until she is 18?
As a freelance writer, a huge part of what I do is social media content; not only to promote my own business, but that of my clients as well. Could I teach my girls to be savvy enough to avoid social media catastrophes and help set them up for a well-rounded and positive experience?
There are perils of social media that most parents are aware of — I'd say the top two are cyberbullying and child predators. Because of these dangers, we lock our children's social media accounts on private and think that our kids are safe from the big bad wolf; we lurk their profile pages and posts to make sure no one is being mean.
Still, there are many other dangers around these platforms for young kids that some parents don't know about.
One thing that got YouTube banned from our house wasn't just that my kids were watching mindless dribble, but also that one innocent video of a kid opening an LOL surprise doll ball can potentially lead to something highly inappropriate after an hour of clicking on the "next video" button. I remember one time, my youngest daughter was watching "Frozen" videos, which ended up leading to an adult parody of the animated movie that poked fun at drug addiction.
The same general idea holds true for social media search or news feeds. Instagram and Musical.ly both have feed options, allowing your child to view pictures or videos that relate to anyone they are following. While the first few can be about American Girl dolls or Miranda Sings, as your tween scrolls through content after social media content, they can hit music videos with scenarios, dance moves and language that are highly questionable for their age group, and even memes or vines with foul language meant for adults.
When your child posts a picture expecting positive feedback or peer approval, it is unnecessary drama and stress for them when they do not receive it.
The power of comments
Kids say the craziest things, right? Sadly, in the land of social media, this can be misconstrued. Much like so much meaning gets lost in texting for us adults, kids on social media often post innocent, yet blunt, comments that raise an eyebrow or two — even when the intent of the statement was not necessarily to be mean. I wouldn't even label this as online hate or even cyberbullying.
When your child posts a picture expecting positive feedback or peer approval, it is unnecessary drama and stress for them when they do not receive it. Along the same lines, when a child posts something and gets no 'likes' or comments, they can feel as if no one likes them. Most social media platforms require users to be at least 13 years of age, and there's a good reason for this: their analytical skills and the understanding around posting (and the permanence of it all) doesn't bubble up until that age.
Let's look up this one in the book of obvious, shall we? I hear parents constantly complain that all their kids do is stare at their tablets on the weekends. Mobile devices, video games and computers are highly addictive... do you really want to expose your tween to one more reason they won't want to leave their room?
When it comes to social media, dopamine is the biggest reason we adults are addicted to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Our brains release the neurotransmitter when we receive instant gratification through the posting content or receiving "likes," giving us a pleasurable high and causing us to seek out more. The unpredictability around when these likes or other content will appear in our notification feeds feeds a sense of urgency, drawing adults to constantly check their social media apps several times a day.
Social media has caused a huge distraction around daily productivity for many adults, and this can have the same effect on kids who will replace some of the other activities they used to love doing (i.e. crafting, outdoor play, reading) with this newfound "fun" addiction. It's important to note that a child that depends on something daily or a behaviour that garners reward each day is far different from an addictive action that ultimately interferes or changes the way your child's day flows once they are introduced to it.
Studies are popping up everywhere around the negative effects social media has had on our mental health, with links to an increase in feelings of isolation, anxiety, life-comparison and depression. This is no different for our tweens.
We've all had one story growing up of being the only kid not invited to that big birthday party. However, when we were kids, we might have learned about it on the Monday after or the Friday before. Now imagine: your tween is not invited to that big party, and then sees it streaming live on Snapchat or in real-time on Instagram as those invited share photos.
Images like these can evoke very real emotions of feeling left out. And girls seem so much more susceptible to the negative impacts of social media on mental health, as rates of anxiety and depression among girls under 17 increase, and rates of self-harm and suicide among females aged 10 to 14 do so as well.
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While some parents may feel that social media is fine in small amounts, others may feel strongly about waiting until their kid is 13 years of age or older. Every family is different, and that's OK; however, what if your kiddo decides to download these apps anyway? Tweens are very technologically savvy, and a recent study revealed that three-quarters of kids from ages 10 to 12 ignore social media restrictions and create accounts. Some of them even do this behind their parents' back.
Don't be afraid to peruse your child's device every now and then, and take time to learn about the different social media platforms out there: it's more than just Facebook and Instagram these days.
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