Like many parents, I was naive when I thought that Instagram was a harmless way for my children to connect to their friends online.
I decided to add my own account and monitor what they were posting. After a month of my son’s having accounts I became lax in checking their posts; one day I turned on my iPad and discovered that my 10-year-old had posted a photo of a rap song with very inappropriate language in its title.
Needless to say, I was shocked—why had he thought it was okay to post this? And even though he was aware that I check his posts, he had impulsively put up the photo thinking his friends would find it funny.
While my 13-year-old didn’t seem to be posting inappropriate photos or posts, his “cyber-friends” often did. I saw photos of bad language, questionable pictures, and posts that could lead to other teens feeling bad about themselves.
The most recent I read was a seventh grade boy asking for his friends to list two girls and then he would rate the one he would rather date. I can imagine this post led to some negative feelings by his female “friends.”
While technology brings us an enormous aid in convenience it also brings with it a great responsibility for parents.
With the accessibility to information our children are also faced with a whole cyber-community and often times, images that they find online that are inappropriate for their age.
If we choose to allow our children access to social networking, texting and video game use (like Minecraft), we need to be responsible in setting appropriate limits, monitoring what they post as well as the amount of time they spend on these media sources.
A study two years ago by the Kaiser foundation found that the average child is spending seven hours a day on media; that seems like a startling finding, yet this includes TV, music, computer, video games and print. This statistic has likely risen in the last few years with the rise of use of Instagram, Minecraft and other games.
Without appropriate boundaries, I fear we are creating a generation of cyber-addicts.
Studies by the American Academy of Pediatrics have shown that more than two hours a day of media use in children can lead to multiple problems including:
-sleep and eating problems
-less time outdoors for creative play
As parents, we can take charge and better steer our children’s appropriate uses of the media. Here are some things to consider if you are allowing your child or teen to use the internet, computer and cellphone:
1. If you allow your child to have an Instagram account, check it often.
Not only will you see what your child is sharing with his cyberfriends but you will also learn a lot about the children he associates or talks with. This can help prevent cyber-bullying and negative feelings about himself. With appropriate monitoring, you can decide if this technology is suitable for your child.
2. Decide what you are comfortable with in your child’s use of a cell phone.
Know that that this little device is like a mini-computer and your child will be exposed to just as much access as you allow. Set appropriate child safety guidelines and decide if you will be checking their texts. Also, make a contract with your child for clear expectations and take away use as necessary.
3. Know that online games are highly rewarding for your child and they may easily get overtaken by obsessions about playing it.
Many parents have found that the game Minecraft has become a source of addiction and many children would rather spend their time on their computer rather than playing outdoors on a sunny day. Monitor your child’s use and also be aware that there are ways for your child to interact and play this game with strangers as well as chat with those he is playing with online.
4. Remember your child’s use of technology is a privilege.
Just like any privilege, you as a parent can take it away if it is being in any way abused. Using a contract with your child can be a helpful way to make the expectations of their media use clear. For example, decide on how many hours a week you are comfortable with. Take away access to technology from your child by keeping computers, iPads and smartphones out of your child’s room.
Also, consider cutting out all technology on weekdays so your child can better focus on schoolwork. You may also consider having your child earn points for using technology such as reading time and chores.
5. Model appropriate media use for your children and find ways to help them interact with others outside of technology.
There is no better way for our children to learn to be more aware of their media use than by example. Turn off the television and play board games together. Unplug yourself every week and perhaps devote at least one afternoon a week to an outdoor activity with your child.
We have become a technology driven culture that is addicted to our computers, cell phones, and televisions. Lets do a better job becoming more mindful of not only our own use of media sources, but also make a conscious effort to teach our children and teens appropriate uses of technology.
We can do better in teaching the next generation better ways to unplug, connect and unwind without the use of a wired device.
Marla McMahon, PsyD, is a mom of two boys and a clinical psychologist. In her private practice in Sacramento, California, she works within a mind-body model with patients of all ages, in areas of depression, anxiety and stress reduction using mindfulness-based therapy. In her spare time, Marla enjoys being outside as much as possible and drives the distance to be near the ocean. She also enjoys paddle boarding and hiking, and she is a dedicated yogi and meditator. Her website is: www.awakeningmindandwellness.com
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