By Anna Myers, D.O. (Brandon Community Office)

Social media use by kids is becoming more and more popular. For this reason, parents need to become familiar with social media sites and how to use them and to monitor their children online. According to a recent poll done by Common Sense Media, 22% of teenagers log on to their favorite social media sites more than 10 times a day, and more than 50% of adolescents log on to a social media site more than once a day. Younger children are also logging on to social media sites at an increasingly higher rate. 


Social Media Types and Age Restrictions

First, parents have to be aware of the various types of social media that are out there. There are social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, gaming sites and virtual worlds such as Club Penguin and Sims, video sites such as YouTube, and blogs. 

It is also important for parents to realize that 13 is the minimum age for most social media sites.  13 years is the age set by Congress in the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which prohibits websites from collecting information on children younger than 13 years without parental permission.  The official terms of service for many popular sites now mirror the COPPA regulations and state that 13 years is the minimum age to sign up and have a profile. This is the minimum age to sign on to Facebook. However, there are some sites geared toward children of younger ages that do not have such an age restriction. 


Risks of Using Social Media

Parents should be conscious of the risks of youth using social media. These are further discussed below. Risks include being subject to cyberbullying and online harassment, placing inappropriate content online, Facebook depression, and decreased sleep. 

Cyberbullying is quite common and has frequently been in the news in recent years.  It can cause profound psychosocial outcomes including depression, anxiety, severe isolation, and even suicide. One way that kids are subject to cyberbullying is when someone uses their password to hack into their account and posts embarrassing pictures or messages online. Therefore, parents should remind their children not to share their passwords with anyone.  Parents should also discourage kids from gossiping, spreading rumors, bullying, or damaging someone's reputation using texting or other tools. 

Parents also need to help children understand the impact that their "digital footprint" can have on their future reputations. Preadolescents and adolescents may lack an awareness of privacy issues and post inappropriate messages, pictures, and videos without realizing that these stay online permanently and may affect future school and job acceptances. Parents should check their children's privacy settings and teach them to review these intermittently. They should discourage children from posting something online that they would not say in public. 

Health Risks

Children's time online should also be limited. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours of screen time per day, which includes time spent watching television, playing video games, or surfing the net. There is a new phenomenon now called "Facebook depression" which is a depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a significant amount of time on social networking sites like Facebook.  Just as with offline depression, children that are afflicted with this are at risk for social isolation.

Another effect of the ever-increasing amount of time that children spend online is that it cuts into their sleep time. This is especially true for pre-teens and teenagers. Not only can the enticement of connecting with friends keep kids away from their beds, but it may stimulate them enough that they have trouble falling asleep when they finally are ready to go to bed. Sleep expert, Michael Breus, Ph.D., recommends a “power down hour” before bed. This allows the child’s body to get ready for sleep so that falling asleep is easier. 


The Positives of Social Media

Social networking sites are not all bad news. Social media sites allow teens to stay connected with friends and family, share pictures, and exchange ideas.  Middle and high school students are even using social media to connect with one another on homework and group projects. For example, there are social media sites like Edmodo, geared specifically toward teachers, students, and schools. Edmodo provides classrooms with a safe and easy way for teachers and students to share ideas and for teachers to post assignments and grades. 


Quick Tips for Parents from

  • Learn about social media technologies firsthand. There is simply no better way than to have a profile yourself. It will also enable you to "friend" your kids and monitor them online.
  • Let your children know that their use of technology is something you want and need to know about.
  • For kids of all ages, ask daily: “Have you used the computer and the Internet today?”
  • Technology use will vary by age. Tweens are likely to be using more instant messaging and texting, while teens use those technologies and also networking sites such as Facebook. Ask daily how your family used those tools with questions such as: “What did you write on Facebook today?” “Any new chats recently?” “Anyone text you today?”
  • Share a bit about your daily social media use as a way to facilitate daily conversation about your kids’ online habits.
  • Get your kids talking about their social media lives if you can just so you know what they are doing.
  • Keep the computer in a public part of your home, such as the family room or kitchen, so that you can check on what your kids are doing online and how much time they are spending there.


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References: The AAP Clinical Report: The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families