Six Ways to Help Your Kids Build Healthy Social Media Habits

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Screens and social media are everywhere. From virtual school assignments to viral videos on YouTube, our children are experiencing more screen time than ever before.

According to a recent study, children ages eight to 18 engage in some form of media technology – smartphones, tablets or computers – an average of nine hours a day. In an increasingly digital world it’s important that parents set safe boundaries and encourage the development of a healthy relationship with social media.

The first question many parents face is: At what age should I allow my child to open a social media account?

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, restricts commercial websites and apps from allowing children under age 13 to open an online account without verifiable parental consent.

“Every child is different,” said Pamela Lusk, PMHNP-BC, FAANP, Adolescent Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner at Ponderosa Pediatrics in Prescott. “Some 13-year-olds are able to handle social media and some are not. Parents need to ask themselves if their child is ready and then talk to the child about online safety and how to have a healthy relationship with social media.”

Here are six suggestions to get you and your child started.

1. Limit screen time.

Set time limits and media-free zones from the beginning to help your children retain balance in their lives. If you are transitioning to less screen time with an older child, try reducing screen time little by little. Less time spent engaging with social media means more time for experiences with friends, family and the outdoors.

“Parents can emphasize the benefits of a balanced life by replacing screen time with other activities,” said Dr. Lusk. “Making dinner together or taking an evening family stroll are simple real-time activities. Or, you can encourage your child to get involved in a new extracurricular activity that allows him or her to interact with friends who have similar interests.”

2. Keep the communication lines open.

Let your children know they can speak to you about social media, their experiences online and any problems they encounter. This helps you stay informed and allows you to guide and protect them. Remember, teens aren’t developmentally wired to fully understand long-term consequences. Parents should remind their children that deleted social media posts are never really gone.

3. Talk often about social media safety.

Make sure your children understand how to stay safe on social media. Tell them not to give out personal details, like their full name, the name of their school, their phone number or their address. Help them understand the importance of not posting inappropriate pictures or updates. Make sure to have a discussion about cyber predators. Explain that they shouldn’t “friend” people they don’t know. And, most important, they should never meet anyone they only know online in person.

4. Encourage healthy connections.

Talk with your kids about the type of accounts they follow and discuss the general feelings they have after engaging. For example, do they feel anxious or “lesser than” after scrolling through their feeds or do they feel inspired and motivated? Encourage your children to unfollow any accounts that create the former emotional response and instead follow those that create a positive sense of connection.

5. Set a positive example.

Adults are not immune to the lure of screens and social media. Dr. Lusk suggests being conscious of the amount of time you spend on social media and the kinds of posts you make.

“Children are constantly developing and looking for examples around them of how to act,” said Dr. Lusk. “Parents can set good examples by limiting their screen time.”

6. Take a break from the digital world.

Digital detoxing is a healthy practice. There are small ways to “unplug,” such as the whole family turning off devices while at the dinner table or making the car a device-free zone. You can also suggest longer “unplug” sessions, like a low-tech weekend. While there might be some grumbling initially, most people – children and adults – are generally happier without the temptation of media technology.

“This generation is part of the digital world,” Dr. Lusk said. “It’s important that parents help shape their children’s relationship with social media in a way that’s positive for their health. The best way to do that is to be informed and involved.”

Dr. Lusk cares for children at Ponderosa Pediatrics, 2120 Centerpointe West Drive in Prescott. To make an appointment, contact Ponderosa Pediatrics at (928) 778-4581.

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