Kids are on social media day and night — with more than a third using it "almost constantly" — despite big concerns about its brunt to mental health, according to a new report.
On May 23, the Office of the Surgeon General released a 25-page report titled "Social Media and Youth Mental Health" stating that up to 95% of kids ages 13 to 17 use social media. And despite 13 being the minimum age requirement to join (thanks to the Children’s Online Protection and Privacy Act), almost 40% of children between the ages of 8 and 12 are also on social media.
Still, there is not enough evidence that social media is "sufficiently safe" for children and teens, it states. The report notes that possible risks include depression and anxiety, lower sleep quality and disordered eating. Social media could also affect brain development during adolescence, it says, when kids form their identities and are especially vulnerable to peer pressure.
But kids can practice healthier social media habits, says Emily Kline, a Boston-based clinical psychologist, when parents discourage these five habits.
Never keep social media profiles public
"Many kids growing up with social media have thousands of followers by the time they graduate from high school," Kline, the author of “The School of Hard Talks: How to Have Real Conversations with Your (Almost Grown) Kids," tells TODAY.com.
Private accounts generally initiate an approval process to access your teen's photos or to send friend requests or messages. With a secure account, she says, teens can ask themselves, "Do I know and like this person?" before agreeing to communicate.
"If your teen shows resistance to making their accounts private, you can ask, 'What am I not understanding about how you want to use this platform that you would prefer it to be public?'" suggests Kline. “Kids tend to think about privacy in relation to their parents or teachers but internet fame might be attractive for some."
Kline recommends that teens don't share full names or birthdays on social media, instead using a cute alias.
"It can be a creative task to think about how kids can present themselves online," she points out.
Never post harmful or embarrassing content
Posting screenshots of private conversations or embarrassing photos or videos of another person can escalate into cyberbullying.
"Get ahead of this by asking your teen why they think that happens or how they would feel on the receiving end," says Kline. "Ask if your child has ever seen anything like that or if they would be tempted to do it to someone else."
Creating that sense of empathy ahead of time can stop your child from participating in harmful behavior.
Never treat social media as a 'kids-only' space
If you’re friends with your teen on social media, you might have a better understanding of their habits. Either way, it's a good idea to glance at your child's feed every now and then.
"Parents might want to occasionally sit with their teens while they scroll, in order to observe what’s coming up in their feed," says Kline. "If you see a lot of content about dieting or videos that seem mean spirited, for instance, then there’s a clear indication that maybe those accounts should be blocked."
Never think that everything should be recorded
Not even the best parts of life need to be recorded or shared.
"Make sure that teens are able to put their phones away during the school day, for a hike in the woods, or at a concert, for example," she says. "Remind teens that (documenting) every moment can take away from the present.
"When we keep some pieces of our lives private and offline," she adds, "it’s mental proof that social media is not a full or accurate depiction of our own life or anyone else’s."
Never avoid talking about social media with family
"Your child might not be following the rules you set when they first got a smartphone," says Kline. "Teenagers can only absorb so much information."
To stay on top of the latest developments, ask your teen for a download. "They understand the world of social media better than parents," says Kline.
"You could ask about the newest app, the latest drama or how social plays a role in their lives," says Kline. "Kids might find your questions entertaining — or hilarious — and enjoy teaching you about it."
However you approach the topic, do it often.
Parents can't always enforce social media rules "unless you follow your teenager around and look over their shoulder," says Kline.
A certain expectation of autonomy should be assumed when teens get a phone.
"If you hope to influence what comes next, it's through conversations with teens," she says. "That way, they understand your reasoning and come to you with problems."
This article was originally published on TODAY.com