Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Promoting Safe and Healthy Social Media Use Among Teenagers

By Janice Loh, MD
Pediatric Resident at The University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School
Member, Texas Medical Association

Whether we like it or not, social media is everywhere. It’s on our desktops, our smartphones, it’s incorporated in schools and the workplace, and it is a platform for conversation. Social media can be defined as online applications that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content. This includes platforms like YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter. Nearly 75% of teens engage in at least one social media site. One in four teens describes him or herself as “constantly connected” to the internet. Teens spend an average of three to four hours a day on social media.

If used in a safe and healthy manner, social media can provide many benefits to teens. Because it’s a form of socialization, it can help their social and emotional development. For many, it is an extension of their offline lives and is an important way for them to interact with their world and maintain friendships. For those who have medical conditions or disabilities, social media can be a way to engage with others who may be experiencing the same struggles and to find support and resources. Many schools also use online blogs and forums to facilitate learning.

However, like most anything, healthy social media use requires some guidelines. Here are some tips for parents to keep in mind:
  1. Talk with your teens about their online activity Have an open discussion regularly about what platforms they and their friends are using and how they are using them. Consider having a profile of your own which will enable you to “friend” or “follow” them online.
  2.  Make teens aware of the risks of online activity – Teens should understand that their online activity is never 100% private and can stay online forever – potentially affecting future employment or college admissions. Teens should also be aware that there are online predators, and they should not interact online with anyone they do not know. They should be educated on cyberbullying, which is social media content that hurts or threatens others, and should be instructed to tell a parent or trusted adult if they encounter cyberbullying. 
    Teens should be educated on cyberbullying, which is social
    media content that hurts or threatens others.
  3. Set some ground rules at home – Even though there are benefits, social media use should be balanced with other offline activities such as physical activity, sleep, homework, and meals. Parents can create a family media use plan for the entire family to follow, to help everyone maintain this balance and ensure that screen time does not replace quality in-person interactions. Additionally, certain areas of the home can be designated as technology-free zones. Technology-free times can also be implemented.
  4. Enforce a bedtime curfew – Research shows that those who sleep with a device nearby sleep less and not as well. Blue light emitted by devices such as cell phones and tablets can stimulate the brain to stay awake and delay release of melatonin which helps to initiate sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all screen use is stopped at least one hour before bedtime.
  5. Teach children to be critical of the information seen online – Not everything online comes from a reliable source, and teens should be taught to carefully assess information before believing or following the source.
When used properly, social media can be a great tool for adolescents. But like any tool, I recommend parents help guide their children to get the best and avoid the worst of it. For more information on safe social media use, visit https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/default.aspx.

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