What Parents Should Know about Social Media

Parents are not nearly as aware as they should be of the impact social media sites have on their children’s lives, according to a new study published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The study identified social media sites as including social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, gaming sites like Club Penguin and the Sims, and video sites like YouTube and blogs. They’re extremely popular with teens and pre-teens, say researchers, who cited a poll showing 22 percent of teenagers log on to their favorite social media site more than 10 times a day and more than half log on more than once a day. Further, 75 percent of teenagers own their own cell phones, and 25% use them for social media, 54% for texting, and 24% for instant messaging.

There are benefits to using social media, the researchers note, including enhanced communication with peers, social connection, the development of social skills, the opportunity to participate in homework circles, and more. But there are also problems – among these are cyberbullying, privacy issues, “sexting” and sleep deprivation associated with Internet addiction.

Parents may lack the technical knowledge to keep pace with their children’s online activities or fail to understand how important an extension of their children’s offline lives social media has become.

Online Dangers

Here are some dangers parents should be especially watchful for:

  • Cyberbullying – using digital media to communicate untrue and often embarrassing or hostile information about another person. The most common online risk for teens, cyberbullying can lead to depression, anxiety, severe isolation, and even suicide.
  • Sexting – sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages or photographs – is a growing phenomenon. One survey found that 20 percent of teens had sent or posted nude or seminude photographs or videos of themselves. Risks include legal problems and school suspension for perpetrators and emotional distress for victims.
  • ‘Facebook Depression’ – Researchers defined this new phenomenon as depression that develops when preteens and teens spend too much time on social media sites and begin to display the classic signs of depression.
  • Privacy Concerns – Preteens and teens may be unaware of the digital footprint they are creating when they post too much information about themselves. They often fail to understand that “what goes online stays online,” which could later haunt them.
  • Targeted Advertising – It’s important to understand that many online sites use behavioral ads, which operate by gathering information on the person using the site and then target that person’s profile to influence purchasing decisions.

Parents can do two basic things to address these concerns, researchers say. They can talk to their children about their online use and discuss the specific risks they may face when they use online sites. They can also work to become better educated about the many technologies their children are using so they can better monitor their children’s online behaviors.

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