Healthy Social Media Thoughts (Part 1)

Our children have grown up with technology.  And, technology has evolved at such a rapid rate that they never ever knew life with out it.  I think that for my gran one of the biggest inventions of her time was the motorcar, for my mother it was the microwave, for me it was the iPhone.  It has enabled us to do so much and changed much of the way we live.

In 1990, when computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web our lives started to change. An American journalist, Dave Barry said:  “The Internet: transforming society and shaping the future through chat”.  Our children lives are influenced every single day by the internet.  Recently, my inbox has been filled with warnings and information around children and social media (not to mention the challenges we face with their ability for instant access to the world).For our kids, the thought that you couldn’t ‘google’ a specific topic is foreign.  The concept of face-to-face communication or long chats on the phone (with parents yelling in the background to get off the phone) is fairly foreign.  It’s easier to Snapchat or what’s app than to actually phone the person.   It’s less threatening and socially acceptable for them to communicate all matter of issues through a social media platform.

There are online apps to protect us and our children, information about the perils of the internet and when I chat to parents, I have noticed something developing.  I call it  ‘social-media paralysis”.  Many parents are afraid and uncertain.  The result is that they end up putting their heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich.  Us as parents can be extremists and the other alternative is to go to the develop an unhealthy obsession and over-emphasis on this issue.  But, I think there is another  road that we can take.  We can walk through this minefield with confidence and peace.

There is a clear link between social media use in teens and their mental well-being. We are all on-line. We all use social media but as parents we need to review how we use our digital devices and how we train our children in their use of the same.  This is not fear based parenting but rather proactive and empowering parenting.

Since adolescence is a vulnerable period for development of long-term issues, it is essential that parents understand how our teens use social media and its impact on factors like sleep quality, mental health, well-being and their physical growth.

Healthy connected patterns are vital to our family’s well-being.  Connect and train well for online usage but also establish healthy family routines where devices are packed away.

So, what are we to do as parents.  Firstly, I would suggest that become familiar with the apps that your children are using.  Coach them on social media etiquette and appropriate use of devices.  Model healthy limits for them.  Your children are watching you like a hawk (they might pretend that they are not, but they actually are). Create analog times and moments where all technology will be set aside.  Check your personal settings on all your media devices and then go look at your children’s settings (make sure that they are set to ‘clean’ or age-appropriate settings).  If you would like to, install net protection apps on the devices in your home.  Talk to your children about boundaries and limits – it’s worth it.  Don’t be scared to go there.

Researcher, Dr Heather Cleland Woods, said: “Adolescence can be a period of increased vulnerability for the onset of depression and anxiety, and poor sleep quality may contribute to this.” She went on to say that problems were more prone to arise during night-time social media use.

She suggested that families use what she calls a “digital sunset,” to lower the potential negative effects of social media use on sleep and feelings of well-being. “Turn off the devices and the blue light, stop checking emails and social media, and allow yourself time to finish your day,” she said. “Sleep is important, so put your phone away.” (1)

Model this well and enforce it in your family.  You will all benefit from good sleep and healthy online connectivity routines.


Footnote:
Social Media Use in Teens Linked to Poor Sleep, Anxiety accessed on http://www.livescience.com/52148-social-media-teen-sleep-anxiety.html. Article by By Agata Blaszczak-Boxe, Contributing Writer | September 11, 2015

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