Your teenager just asked you if she can start an Instagram account. What should you do? We’ve put together some social media tips for parents to help you and your kids navigate the online world.

It’s okay for your teen to be online

We’ve all heard the horror stories of kids being bullied on social media or friending sexual predators pretending to be kids. But it really is okay for your teen to be online. In fact, online relationships are part of typical adolescent development. Social media can support teens as they explore and discover more about themselves and their place in the grown-up world by giving them access to communities they might not find locally. So talk to your teen about why they want to be on social media and then help them find safe ways to get these benefits both online and offline.

But, be sure your teen is behaving appropriately in both the real and online worlds. Many teens need to be reminded that a platform’s privacy settings do not actually make things “private” and that images, thoughts and behaviors teens share online will instantly become a part of their digital footprint indefinitely. Keep lines of communication open and let them know you’re there if they have questions or concerns.

Warn children about the importance of privacy and the dangers of predators and sexting

Teens need to know that once content is shared with others, they will not be able to delete or remove it completely. This includes texting inappropriate pictures. Teach your kids how to balance how much they share about themselves online.

Teens may also not know about or choose not to use privacy settings, and they need to be warned that sex offenders often use social networking, chat rooms, email and online gaming to contact and exploit children. Make sure your kids know about identity theft and false identity.

Find an appropriate balance

It’s important for teens to balance healthy and essential activities such as sleep, exercise, learning and family time with digital consumption. You can help them do this by discussing what activities need to be prioritized daily and then budget for social media/screen time through the use of a family media plan. The media plan should include clear boundaries about what media is allowed and what is not. Time limits are also very important. A timer is one of the best ways to help set a limit.

To help your teen get over the fear of missing out, have them block or silence notifications from social media that alerts them to what their peers are doing, such as playing certain video games or attending parties.

You can also create media-free zones, such as during meal times and at bedtime, and set aside specific days or hours as “media-free” periods.

Be a good role model

Teens tend to do what they see rather than what you say. So if you spend all your time looking at Instagram, chances are your teen will too. Be a good role model and limit your time on social media and screens. And when you are using your own device, make sure you don’t ignore your kids.

Remember: Kids will be kids

Kids will make mistakes using media. Try to handle errors with empathy and turn a mistake into a teachable moment. However, some indiscretions, such as sexting, bullying or posting self-harm images, may be a red flag that hints at trouble ahead. It’s important that you carefully observe your children’s behaviors and, if needed, enlist supportive professional help, including the family pediatrician.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brooke Bokor, MD, MPH, is a double board-certified Assistant Professor in the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children's National Health System. Her practice at the Sheikh Zayed Campus for Advanced Children's Medicine focuses on primary and consultative care for adolescents ages 12-21, as well as inpatient care.

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