Managing Your Child’s Use of the Internet and Social Media

Jul 02, 2018

The internet and social media can open up amazing opportunities for learning, research, and forging relationships. With that said, it’s important to remember that the web is simply a tool, and it can be used in various ways. Just as with virtually any tool, the internet and social media can have a bad side, and this is often out of your child’s hands. They can be exposed to things outside of their control or understanding very quickly, and that’s why it’s important for parents and caregivers to understand the foundation of web usage and screen time in children, along with the the various ways that the internet and social media can be managed.

The internet has changed drastically in the past decade. For instance, social media has blown up. Now platforms like Snapchat offer a level of anonymity that can make parents uncomfortable. Marketing has also transformed, and parents constantly worry about how their children are targeted. On YouTube Kids, which is a platform specifically made to shield children from adult content, inappropriate videos were recently found to be masking themselves to look like kids’ content.

In essence, you’re left with an internet that isn’t kid-friendly, and even the platforms marketing themselves as safe for children aren’t infallible. As the parent, your job has evolved to becoming the chief monitor of your child’s internet usage; you don’t want your child to feel imprisoned, but at the same time, you’ve got to be sure that they are safe.

What’s Good About the Internet and Social Media?

After considering the downside of the internet and social media, you might be wondering why you should let your child have any access to either. Before you take your child offline, let’s discuss some of the ways the internet and social media use can be good.

First, your child can use the internet to research. As adults, we often use search engines to get fast answers to our burning questions, find new recipes to try, and look up prices on products we’re interested in. Children can use the internet to research information for reports or simply to learn about the world around them.

Even social media can be used to research local events, venues, restaurants, and people.

Social media provides an outlet for children to engage in social activity, and we all know that can be good for developing brains.

When your child uses the internet and social media, they are also learning internet etiquette. Using the internet can boost reading skills and comprehension while teaching them how to research.

The internet can also be an outlet for creativity. Some children start crowdfunding campaigns for charities or new products, and some kids have started businesses online. Then, they turn to social media to make their campaigns go viral.

When used properly, the internet and social media can be powerful tools for development and socialisation.

Internet and Social Media Concerns All Parents Should Be Aware Of

While you don’t want to take their internet privileges away, you do need to structure them. In this portion of this guide, we’re going to cover the things that can negatively impact your child when they’re using the internet and social media.

1. Security and Safety

When online, your child could accidentally come in contact with and/or download something containing a virus. Your computer or device could become infected, and you’ll need to clean it up using the proper software. If you’ve already got an antivirus program installed, it will likely block such viruses.

Identity theft is also another real issue. While adults are accustomed to giving their personal information out very carefully, children might not understand this concept. If your child is too young for a talk about personal data privacy, they could accidentally give away important information leading to identity theft.

2. Social Dangers

If your child is using the internet and social media, they could engage in sexting. This can involve inappropriate messages and images between them and people they already know or complete strangers.

Another scary issue is online grooming, in which a child meets a complete stranger online, and that individual manipulates the child into not seeing the dangers of a relationship, or even a physical meeting.

Cyberbullying is another internet and social media-related issue that has recently gained traction in the news. This on-the-rise issue is one of the most common issues kids face today and entails someone harassing them online.

Radicalization is an increasing trend, as many people are now using the internet and social media to persuade others to join their terrorist causes.

3. Physical Danger

All of the social dangers listed above can lead to physical danger. For instance, a child who physically meets a stranger they’ve met online can be in harm’s way. Children can be lost to human trafficking and even lose their lives this way.

Sexting can lead to physical sexual relationships, which can lead to STDs and pregnancy.

Cyberbullying has been in the news lately because it is driving more and more children to commit suicide.

4. Inappropriate Content

While viruses can be contracted online inadvertently, children can also stumble upon content that isn’t suited for them. Some of this content can include videos containing violence or pornography, websites and software for gambling, and more. This sort of content can have negative psychological effects on kids.

5. Too Much Screen Time

“Screen time” is becoming more and more common for children because of the rise of handheld devices, such as tablets and phones. While screen time can help keep kids occupied, it can also have downsides.

Some of the disadvantages of too much screen time include lack of focus and concentration, problems with paying attention, language issues, and an inability to build relationships.

6. Addiction and Anxiety

Some children can become addicted to the internet and social media in general. When they need to spend time away from the screen, anxiety can be observed. Addiction can compromise schoolwork and life in general for children.

What the Statistics Say About Kids Using the Internet and Social Media

According to TechAddiction, a Canada-based organisation offering video game addiction treatment, most kids are consuming an average of 3 hours of media every single day. Most screen time is spent on computers, the internet, and watching TV. Sadly, most kids are reading less than 20 minutes per day.

Even toddlers are spending an hour looking at a screen daily.

In the UK, Ofcom found that more than half of 5-7 year olds are using YouTube, and 87% of teenagers are using it.

GuardChild, which aims to protect kids in the digital age, says that nearly 90% of teens report seeing someone being mean to someone on social media, and sexual assault stemming from social media has risen by 300%.

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry notes that 60%+ teens ages 13-17 are on at least one social media site. Their research found that many of these teens are spending two or more hours on social media every day.

Practical Ways to Manage Your Child’s Internet and Social Media Use

As we’ve mentioned, it would be difficult and even a disadvantage to fully eliminate the internet and social media from your child’s life. They’ll eventually have full access to it, and their young years are a great time to build healthy habits. There are some things you can do to balance your child’s internet and social media time, with a mission to decrease the negative potentials.

The first step is to educate your child. If your child is old enough, make sure that they understand the potential dangers of the internet and social media. If they know what to watch out for, they can tell you if they come across any suspicious people or become victims of cyberbullying. Also, make sure they understand that they shouldn’t give out any personal information, such as an address or phone number, online.

By educating your child on the dangers of the internet and social media, you can protect him or her from physical dangers, cyberbullying, and identity theft.

If your child is too young to understand, then it’s best that you monitor all of their time online and on social media. This ensures that your child is safe while they’re online.

Next, create structured guidelines for internet and social media use. For instance, you can limit your child’s screen time to one hour per day. You could let them online for an hour after homework and chores are done each day, for example. Make sure that these guidelines include times and rules for usage. If you don’t want your child to be active on certain social media, then you need to make sure that they understand the consequences for disobeying. While this might seem unfair to some, especially teenagers, the dangers of the internet and social media are a reality. Reiterate this if your child disagrees with your guidelines.

Creating such a schedule is one way to avoid the issue of addiction and anxiety while making sure your child doesn’t get too much screen time.

Last, look into parental control software. This can be found online and offers the ability to filter and monitor your child’s time online. Another way to monitor your child’s internet use is to analyse your wireless router. For instance, some routers keep logs of all websites accessed.

By using parental control software and router information, you can keep track of your child’s internet and social media usage. This is one way to protect your child from accessing or stumbling across inappropriate content.

Kids Can Get Around Parental Controls and Safety Features

Even if you install parental control software, beware that children will often find ways around such implements. Many children will figure out how to change the password, and this will give them access to anything they want. If you live close to a neighbor or go into a new area, your child could simply use someone else’s wi-fi to bypass your parental controls, depending on your setup. Another easy way to get around safety features is to do a factory reset on a device. One of the easiest ways they can get around parental controls is to use someone else’s device.

For your older or more tech savvy kids, downloading a VPN is one way to get around parental control software. Free proxy websites and incognito mode can also be used to get around filters, and kids can also figure out how to go online with hidden browsers.

The Bottom Line on Your Child’s Internet and Social Media Usage

You can spend time explaining the dangers of the internet to your child and you can implement parental control software. At the end of the day, if your child wants to get around all of that, they will probably find a way. That doesn’t mean that they will, but it’s something to keep in mind.

How do you get around that?

The best thing to do is to make sure that you’re talking to your child. Have conversations about friends, events, and happenings in their life. Periodically check their devices. This means checking social media, messages, images, and calls. A condition of them having a device can be that you’ll randomly check it. There can be resistance from older children, to whom you’ll need to explain to repeatedly that you are in charge of keeping them safe.

The bottom line is that you’ve got to keep communicating with your child and always be vigilant about what they’re doing on their devices to ensure their safety.