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Published Date: Apr 30, 2013



Kids' behavior and technology: Neither is a wholly new set of conundrums, but the increasing availability of social media makes this an important time to talk about them both.

Kids are growing up amid a sea of electronic media. It's important for parents to consider how this may impact social life, development, academics, and adjustment, and how parents can serve as a buffer from some of the potential negative consequences. 

How does media use affect kids' development?

Because texting, instant messaging, and social networking sites like Facebook are still comparatively new, research is not really available yet on their long-term effects. But we can extrapolate a certain amount from research on the effects of TV and video games on children's development.

·         Among preschoolers, more time spent watching TV has been shown to have a negative impact on attention, academic performance, and adjustment in elementary school and middle school.

·         Increases in media use are associated with reduced grades; only 23 percent of "light" users averaged C's or worse, as compared with 47 percent of "heavy" users.

·         Kids who see more TV learn to read later and slower.

Violent and sexual content, in both TV and video games, bring their own concerns. Increased exposure to violence has been proven to result in:

·         More aggressive behaviour

·         More aggressive thoughts

·         More angry feelings

·         Less empathy

·         Fewer helping behaviors

·         Increases in fear

Furthermore, this content tends to be:

·         Unrealistic: in 73 percent of instances there is no punishment, and only 16 percent of programs show any negative consequences to violent behavior.

·         Frequent in children's programming. Even when kids are watching "family friendly" shows like "Sponge Bob," there is an average 25 acts of violence per TV-viewing session.


A new way to meet an age-old need

Humans have always looked for ways to connect with others through shared interests and experiences. In this sense, social media are simply new tools for behaviour humans have engaged in, quite possibly, since there have been humans.

Both the age-old and modern versions all contain opportunities for pro-social, neutral, and anti-social interactions. Here are a few examples, all possible through both face-to-face and social media interactions:

·         Compliments

·         Exchange of information

·         Playful and fun interactions

·         Hanging out

·         Commenting

·         Spreading rumours

·         Teasing

·         Threatening or bullying

However, there are a few key differences:

In social media interactions, there is more potential for contact with people parents don't know. It used to be that other kids called on the phone, or came knocking at the door, and so parents had a much higher chance of being aware of who their kids were interacting with. Not so with someone sending a text message, a friend request on Facebook, or other players in a "massively multiplayer" online game.

These interactions happen during more hours of the day. Again, kids aren't likely to see friends face-to-face, or even get phone calls, at midnight on a Tuesday. But many teens get text messages from their friends at this hour. Some teens send and receive hundreds of texts after 11 p.m.

Just as parents are more unlikely to know with whom kids are interacting, they're less likely to know when kids are chatting online or texting with friends at all. The personal and portable nature of many social media devices—cell phones, laptops—creates a huge potential for social media use away from parental eyes and supervision. Parents often don't know whether a teen up in her bedroom is doing her math homework, having a fight with her boyfriend, or watching something inappropriate for her age on YouTube.

Social media has the potential for positive social consequences:

·         For shy children, social media can actually enhance their ability to connect with others and form positive relationships with peers.

·         Social media have the potential to allow all children to interact with more thought. It's much harder to stop and think before responding to a person standing in front of you than to take some time before you reply to a text or Facebook message.

There are also a host of potential negative consequences:

·         Information can spread extremely quickly. This can be good, if a piece of news needs to be disseminated quickly throughout a school community, for example, or bad, if what is being spread is a piece of harmful gossip or an inappropriate photo. 

·         Because these activities lend themselves to multitasking, they bring with them a loss of concentration. There is no such thing as truly effective multitasking. Your child won't do as good a job studying for a test if they are also sending text messages or chatting with friends online.

·         More time on social media means less time on other activities, including academics.

·         The prevalence of social media means that kids (and adults) spend less time reading all types of written materials, including books, magazines, and newspapers.

·         Social media make it very easy to impulsively share private information.

·         Kids can't always escape negative interactions. Most won't be able to turn off the cell phone, even if they're getting text messages that are upsetting or even harassing in some way.

Potential impact of social media on psycho-social development:

·         A potential for greater anxiety

·         Increases in depression

·         Takes time and energy away from other things, including face-to-face interactions, physical activity, play (for younger children), academics, and family time.

·         Can create a compulsive need for "vigilance"—to keep checking on comments being made about you.

·         Can lead to impulsive reactions in order to "correct" impressions or comments being circulated online.

Who is most vulnerable:

·         Children who are socially awkward, impulsive or have other behaviour issues

·         Children with a tendency toward anxiety or depression

·         Children who don't fit in well with their particular subgroup

What parents can do

There are a number of things parents can and should do to stave off potential negative consequences of social media.

·         Learn more about social media, either from your children (they are digital natives, we are digital immigrants) or by taking a class. 

·         Except in extreme circumstances, try to find a way to allow your child to participate in social media. If they say they'll be left out socially if you restrict their access altogether, they're probably right.

·         Join your child's social networks and "friend" them. While it may increase parent-child conflict, you need to know the substance of what your child is saying and doing on these sites and confront them about inappropriate behaviour. Thirty-nine percent of parents report having friended their teen on a social networking site.

·         Teach kids to stop and really think before responding to text messages or comments made on social media.

·         Set limits. Use software that turns the computer off after a certain number of hours and/or tracks online activity.

·         Get your children's passwords. Again, online privacy from parents is not an inalienable right. A Facebook page is not a diary, kept under the bed under lock and key. If friends and friends-of-friends can see it, Mom and Dad need to be able to as well.

·         Don't let kids charge phones or laptops in their bedrooms, and don't let them have these devices in their rooms overnight. Your teen should not be on Facebook or replying to text messages instead of sleeping.

·         If possible, limit the presence of cell phones and computers in kids' bedrooms during all hours of the day. Find a place in your home that is quiet enough for homework, but still public.

·         Model good behaviour. If you are checking your BlackBerry or iPhone at the dinner table or on family vacations, how can you expect your children to unplug? Make time for family time. Surf the Web together, and share other activities as well.

·         If kids go a day (or several) without being online, their world will not come to an end (that goes for you, too).

·         Especially for younger kids, play (the kind that doesn't involve computers) is important. Video games are among the most popular activities when boys get together, and Facebook and other social networking sites are popular with girls. Force kids to play outside or engage in other types of activities if necessary: "You can play the video game after you've played outside for half an hour."

·         Talk with kids about what is and isn't appropriate to post online. There is definitely such a thing as "oversharing"! Just because kids' friends are posting certain photos or information doesn't mean it's a good idea.

·         Keep social networking in its place. Make sure your kids eat well, sleep well, and exercise.Teach and model social skills and empathy.

·         Know the content your child is consuming. Watch the YouTube videos, look at their friends' Facebook page if you have access, play the video games they play.

·         Discuss content viewed online (and this goes for TV, video games, movies, music videos, etc.). Does it agree with your values? Is it accurate and/or realistic? How do you think it may affect the behaviour and emotions of people who see it?

·         Confront your kids about Facebook or other social media posts you feel are inappropriate, from them or their friends.

·         Remind kids not to post photos or content that could help strangers find them in the real world, such as photos in school uniforms or displaying school names or logos. Make sure your child limits access to Facebook pages and other social media to people your child specifically accepts as "friends," and tell them not to accept friend requests from strangers.

When to be concerned about your child's social media habits:

·         If a child is overly preoccupied with what is being said online, or with getting back online when they're away from their computer or smart phone.

·         If they need to be online for longer and longer periods of time.

·         If they are unable to cut back on time online (or text messaging).

·         If they get irritable, restless or anxious ("withdrawal" symptoms) when they cannot be online.

·         If they are experiencing impairment in other areas of life due to the time they spend using social media.

·         If they are concealing their computer or phone use.

·         If they seem to be going online to escape from real world interactions.

Different children, different concerns:

·         With aggressive children, encourage them to make positive comments online.

·         With anxious children, discourage them from using cell phones to be in constant touch. Except in cases of real emergency, set limits about the number of calls or texts per day.

·         With distant children, encourage staying in closer touch and checking in more regularly.

·         With impulsive children, encourage them to think before they respond to social media communications.

·         With socially awkward children, provide supervision and encourage reaching out to other kids.

In the case of harmful or negative online interactions:

·         Let your child know to always inform an adult.

·         Even if your child has been targeted, tell him or her not to retaliate. Adults will handle the problem.

·         Talk with them about harsh behaviour or upsetting images or words they witness online.

·         Encourage them to say or do something in response to bullying. It's important to remember that bystanders suffer almost the same degree of negative emotions from witnessing instances of bullying as the bullies themselves. Set reasonable rules for reviewing your child's social media use. Restrict use if they aren't able to use social media responsibly.

Issues to consider:

·         How much time should you let your child spend online, watching TV, or playing video games?

·         Do they interact with people you don't know?

·         Do they have regular unsupervised access to a computer or smart phone, where you have no way to monitor their interactions?

·         Do you serve as a filter and interpreter for the material your child views online and their social media sites? TV? Video games?

·         Do you decide what games your child is allowed to play or what content they're allowed to view?

Steps to Consider:

·         Purchasing software that lets you decide when the computer shuts down.

·         Restricting access to certain online content.

·         If you and your child have difficulties resolving issues surrounding social media use on your own, consider consulting with a mental health professional.

Reference : NYU Child Study Center

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