10 new guidelines to keep your kids safe on social media

The American Psychological Association (APA) recently released a health advisory as guidelines for limiting social media use among adolescents.

The advisory includes 10 recommendations based on feedback from a panel of health experts who create healthy and safe things parents can practice with their kids. The recommendations include social media literacy, promoting a healthy online environment and ensuring that the use of social media does not interfere with sleep and/or physical activity, among others.

Making sense of the recommendations

Parents may find these guidelines to be daunting, but the APA stresses that these are merely guidelines and not an end-all-be-all for your child’s mental development.

The APA notes that using social media “is not inherently beneficial or harmful to young people” and is “dependent on [an] adolescents’ own personal and psychological characteristics and social circumstances,” meaning each child is different and matures at a different pace.

Muszynski on Social Media
Dr. Muszynski has been practicing pediatrics for eight years.

Ashley Muszysnki, MD, a pediatrician at ProMedica Physicians Oregon Pediatrics, says that social media is a double-edged sword, and — when not used correctly — can do more harm than good. “It [social media] can give a child a sense of community by connecting to other people, especially in smaller school districts, but it can also lead to your children comparing themselves to social media influencers which can lead to self-doubt, anxiety and depression.”

This is why she believes parents need to play a large role in their child’s social media lives, and they should start with social media literacy, which comes in at number nine on APA’s guidelines. 

“Parents should actively try to teach their children social media literacy to help them understand what’s happening in the world so that when they see it online, the message or image won’t be misconstrued,” Dr. Muszysnki says, adding that it’s important for parents to look at screen time usage as a whole, not just social media use. According to Children’s Hospital of Orange County (California)(CHOC), over 65 percent of teens spend more than four hours on their phones daily. 

“There have been a lot of studies that show blue-light emitting devices such as phones or tablets can affect the natural production of melatonin in a child’s body,” says Dr. Muszynski, adding that if you start by limiting screen time, it will be easier to enforce social media rules in the house.

What are some simple things parents can do to keep their children safe while on social media?

While you can’t monitor everything your child does when they’re online, CHOC offers some simple tips and tricks to try with your child. These include setting boundaries to limit potential health issues, setting daily limits for electronic devices while encouraging face-to-face interactions with others, and having an open dialogue with your children about what they are seeing online or on social media.

In addition to what the APA offers, Dr. Muszysnki says another great resource for parents is the American Academy of Pediatrics, whose mission is to help families reach their optimal physical, mental and social health and well-being.

A panel of experts with APA started a Q&A section that is categorized into early childhood, middle childhood, early adolescence, middle adolescence and tech in K-12. Parents can submit questions that are then reviewed by the experts who create personalized answers. Those answers will then be added to the library of answers to help others with similar questions.

Dr. Muszynski reminds parents that the APA guidelines can be used as a tool but it’s up to parents to garner strong relationships with their children as they grow, explaining, “The life on your phone isn’t detrimental to your life off your phone.”

Find the recommendations, in full, at apa.org.

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