The holiday season can find many parents dealing with pre-teens wishing for a device to access social media.
According to Joe Austerman, D.O., a behavioral health specialist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s, allowing your child to enter the world of social media is a big decision – and a little scary.
He said while the decision is a personal choice for each family, there is one rule of thumb that all families should start with – and that’s setting time limits.
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“You don’t want children on social media for very long,” said Dr. Austerman. “We know that the longer you’re engaged in either watching television or on social media, the worse the outcomes can be as far as depression, obesity, and decrease in grades.”
Dr. Austerman said when the time comes, don’t just hand your child the device and send them on their way. He recommends sitting down with them and discussing the pitfalls of using social media as a way to compare themselves with their peers.
“You should be teaching them how to use social media and use it responsibly,” he said. “You also want to shepherd them through this – make them understand this phenomenon, that they’re subconsciously comparing themselves when they’re interacting with other people, - and help them to start to look at themselves off of social media.”
Dr. Austerman recommends trying to hold off until a child is at least 12 or 13 years old before allowing them to create a social media account.
When a child gets a device, Dr. Austerman said it’s important to set guidelines before they get on social media. It’s best if the parent is the owner of the device – that way, the parent has the ability to access any social media accounts.
He said parents can relax social media monitoring as children get older, if they’ve proven that they can use it responsibly without causing problems with peers or negatively impacting their school work.
Using social media isn’t all bad news. When used responsibly, Dr. Austerman said social media can provide a benefit to many children.
“Some kids actually get a positive reward from using social media,” he said. “It helps kids that are feeling isolated because they can’t find their peer groups at school or in their community. Especially in groups that feel marginalized, such as LGBTQ groups - they can expand their world and gain access to people that they have commonality with, decreasing their sense of feeling alone.”