How Closely Should I Monitor My Child's Cell Phone and Internet Use?
Studies suggest that the more exposure to smartphone and social media sites, the more at risk children and teens are for anxiety and depression. "Kids are more isolated online than when they’re interacting in real life situations, which can lead to anxiety and depression,” said Dr. Matthew Bartels, M.D., Excellus BlueCross BlueShield medical director for clinical quality.
When preteens and teens spend excessive amounts of time on social media, such as Facebook, they may begin to display typical depression symptoms, including withdrawal from friends and activities, poor eating habits and sleep deprivation.
The intensity of the online sphere is thought to be a cause of depression.
Cyberbullying, a peer-to-peer form of harassment, is one of the main risks of using smartphones and social media. The American Academy of Pediatrics defines cyberbullying as “deliberately using digital media to communicate false, embarrassing, or hostile information about another person.”
Bartels recommends parents protect their children from cyberbullying by monitoring all of their children’s media devices and social media accounts as well as their behavior.
“Don’t be afraid to question and take control of your children’s devices, review what’s happening on the smartphone or tablet, and limit use to public areas of the house,” he said.
Parents should assess their child’s maturity before granting access to smartphones and social media sites. For younger children, phones with only texting and calling capabilities are more suitable.
“Smartphones may be more appropriate for older teens, but parents should still monitor and regulate their older children’s use of these devices.”
Bartels recommends that parents of teens and children:
- Teach responsibility: Help your children understand they are accountable for what they put online.
- Teach privacy: Instruct your child or teen to use caution when accepting phone calls or text messages from numbers or people they don’t recognize. Help them understand the possible repercussions of posting personal information about themselves, and why they need to be careful.
- Teach compassion: Make sure kids understand that posting negative comments about their peers or sharing private information about them is never acceptable.
- Model the behavior you expect: Adopt the motto of “do as I do” not “do as I say.”
Despite inherent dangers from smartphone and social media, children and teens also can benefit from their use, said Bartels.
“Social media sites, when monitored, can promote learning, such as swapping ideas and problem-solving,” he said. “They also help kids stay connected to friends, family and classmates by sharing events and photos.”
Talk to your pediatrician for help deciding what’s right for your kids and visit aap.org for more tips.