Teens and Social Media Safety: Tips for Parents

Kids_social_media_safetySnap Chat. Whats App. Voxer. With new online messaging and communications applications seemingly popping up daily, parents more than ever need to be mindful of their children’s technology and social media use, health care providers caution.

“Technology is great, but it has consequences, especially on our younger population,” says Dr. Christopher Min, a CHOC Children’s psychologist.

And while valuable, the convenience and speed of social media and technology can also have lasting impacts: Dr. Min estimates that social media or technology use surface in about half of his patient cases, and he’s seen suicide attempts that were related somehow to social media or technology.

“Teenagers’ lives are very much revolving around these things,” he said.  “It’s made teenage culture very unstable.”

Risky behavior and teens

Teens might be more inclined to participate in risky behavior online for both physical and emotional reasons. First, while their bodies and hormonal systems are fully developed, their brains are not, Dr. Min says.

“Brain development is far from over,” he says. “Their brains have not matured to the point that they can always prioritize, put on the brakes and consider consequences before acting.”

Secondly, teens feel significant pressure to be accepted. They also have a distorted perception of what’s normal because they are so encapsulated in their age group, school and circle of friends, he says.

“Acceptance to a peer group is very important,” says Dr. Min. “Adolescents will go to great lengths to be accepted into a group, or to feel like they are.”

Tips for parents

Every parent wants their child to feel comfortable and happy with friends, but they also want them to stay safe. To that end, Dr. Min has several tips for parents of children using social media and technology:

1. Monitor teens’ social media use.

To what extent a parent should track social media activity depends on the child, Dr. Min says, but parents need to be aware how a child uses these tools. Monitoring can be accomplished through regular discussions or more formal means such as sharing log-in information, depending on the child’s responsibility level.

 2. Encourage teens to get together in person.

The underlying reason for social media is create a sense of connectedness, and this can be accomplished faster than meeting in person. Instead, parents can help create connections by facilitating actual meetings with people, Dr. Min says.

“Be that cool mom or cool dad who makes it fun and cool to hang out at the house,” he advises.

3. Remember that parents control access to social media.

Dr. Min reminds parents that they pay for Internet or cell phone access. Parents should exercise authority and reason with teens by stating clear consequences and rewards for social media use.

“In treatment, I like to help parents realize that in the structure of the family, the control has to rest in the parents,” he says. “They don’t need to be powerless.”

Tips for teens

Dr. Min also has advice for teens. He recommends that teens who are ready to post something online instead pause for five to 10 seconds to consider their actions, the post’s meaning and possible consequences.

“This will help them in not posting things that they don’t want cemented on the Internet forever,” he says.

Learn more about psychology at CHOC Children’s.

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Young Love: A Lesson for Parents

Parents often dread the day their sons or daughters start developing romantic feelings. But it’s a part of normal adolescent20130425_1032 development, says CHOC Children’s pediatric psychologist Chris Min, PhD.

Beginning in the pre-adolescent stage – around ages 11 and 12 – kids start to hang out in mixed groups. A year or two later, friendships can evolve into romantic relationships.

While this is normal, teen romance is not without its ups and downs. Parents can prepare their kids for healthy relationships by following these tips from Dr. Min.

  • A teen brain is not a fully developed brain; hence, the impulsive behavior. Teenagers don’t always consider the consequences of their actions, so parents need to guide them. This starts by creating an open atmosphere at home. While adults might see teen break-ups as inevitable and minimize their impact, they can be devastating to adolescents who have little life experience to draw from. Dr. Min encourages parents to be active listeners, and stresses the importance of sharing life experiences.
  • Parents shouldn’t always wait for teens to come to them. It can be a good idea for mom and dad to have an open and inviting discussion with teens when they notice changes in behavior, such as frequent texts to the same boy. Parents should never embarrass their children about a new love interest, but should definitely take note and keep track of the relationship.
  • It’s important for teens to maintain healthy coping mechanisms, which can include support from friends and participation in a variety of activities. Parents need to make sure that a new relationship does not isolate their kids in any way. Teens can survive break ups much easier when they have coping mechanisms in place, from friends and family members to sports, for example.
  • When it comes to dating, parents should provide the appropriate level of freedom and privacy. This is often determined by their teen’s maturity level and past track record. Parents shouldn’t hesitate to change the rules if their trust has been broken.
  • It is strongly recommended that parents monitor their teens’ social media activities – monitoring sites and online conversations, in addition to educating them on appropriate use. Many teens fall victim to the social pressures of sharing inappropriate and personal images/texts over social media, creating an aftermath of hurt and shame.
  • Role modeling is particularly impactful when it comes to learning about healthy relationships. Teens observe interactions between their parents, so it’s important to be mindful of the model that parents set for their teens.

Young love, from innocent kisses to first dates, is a teenage rite of passage. By providing an environment of open communications and establishing trust, parents can help their teens enjoy an exciting time in their adolescent lives.

Dr. Christopher Min is a pediatric psychologist at CHOC Children’s. He received his graduate degree at University of Maryland Baltimore County and completed both his predoctoral internship and postdoctoral fellowship at CHOC Children’s Hospital. His areas of interest include inpatient psychological consultation/liaison services, behavioral sleep medicine, and issues in adolescent development and treatment.

Learn more about pediatric psychology services at CHOC.

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