Parental Oversight of Social Media


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Growing up with social media in one form or another has become an integral part of life for many children and young adults. Social media, in all of its forms, requires new areas of parental oversight, from limiting time spent on devices to monitoring content — both inbound and outbound. This month, we will discuss how parents can use their understanding of social media use as a behavior that sheds light on how a child is developing — socially and emotionally.

Understanding Behavior

One way to understand why a child behaves one way or another is to think of the behaviors as expressions of emotional states. What could be going on internally to cause certain behaviors? In the context of the use of social media, obsessional use, vanity or exhibitionism, and teasing or bullying are often signs of internal distress. Such behaviors do not typically stem from a place of comfort.

Family Values

While social media seems to have become a platform for narcissistic, exhibitionist or other undesirable behaviors, it is not the cause of these behaviors. Instead, social platforms provide a space that allows traits that have already developed — or are developing — to flourish. Family discussions about values and thoughts on appearances, relationships, self respect and respect of others should be taking place and ongoing long before your child enters the world of social media. A climate in which seeking help and guidance is safe rather than critical keeps the door open for children and young adults to turn to their parents when something feels wrong or uncomfortable.

Problematic Uses of Social Media

When problems around a child or young adult’s use of social media arise, they can be clues that something is occurring in or around the child that is uncomfortable or unpleasant. The behavior is an attempt to change how he or she feels. While intervening and limiting the use of social media may curb the behavior in the short-term, whatever feelings or internal struggles serve as the root of the behaviors will likely remain.

The challenge for many children is they don’t realize why they are reacting and behaving in a particular way. The mind has a way of justifying and defending behaviors, often leading to denial that there is any wrongdoing. With some understanding that (painful) feelings are causing the behavior and that the child does not necessarily see the connection between the two, parents can be in a better position to provide help and guidance in a more meaningful and compassionate way.

A Sign of the Times

The reality is that social media is going to play a role in a child and teenager’s life. Children have access to mobile devices, and those who don’t will have access through other people in school and other public places. Family discussions about the use of social media and how one portrays his or her life in images and blurbs can help to ensure that your family values are at the core of all of your child’s interactions, whether virtual or in person.

These discussions can be the most meaningful when they build on ongoing and longstanding discussions about your family’s core values. If there are problems developing with a child’s use of social media, there may be struggles or challenges in his or her development of relationships in general. In some cases, it may be helpful to seek the guidance of a mental health professional if relationships and social behaviors are a persistent area of concern.

The Lucy Daniels Center is a nonprofit agency in Cary that promotes the emotional health and well-being of children and families. Visit lucydanielscenter.org to learn more.

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