Sunday, October 1, 2023

No Easy Answers for Parents in the Age of Social Media


Almost every generation of parents says that parenting is harder than it used to be. That line of thinking is probably generated by the fact that when we become parents, although we believe we know what we are doing, we usually don’t. We have role models, good and bad, but we don’t have experience.

But for today’s generation of parents, it might be true. A recent study by the Pew Research Center in 2020 and the Surgeon General’s health advisory last month gives us a picture. The Pew study found that two thirds of U.S. parents think parenting is more difficult than 20 years ago And the most cited reason for most parents is social media and smartphones.

Just look around. It’s easy to see what is happening with children and devices. Everywhere kids have an electronic device. I’ve watched kids, some of them toddlers, on airplanes watching videos on tablets from takeoff to landing. Who hasn’t seen a gaggle of kids sitting together and everyone looking at their smartphones? My grandson gives commands to voice activated “assistants” known as Alexa or Siri, setting alarms, playing songs, and asking questions.

The Pew study found that 71% of parents are very or somewhat concerned their kids might spend too much time in front of screens. Most parents feel confident in knowing how much screen time is too much (3 hours daily is considered the limit) but continue to seek advice from doctors, teachers, and counselors.

In addition to being concerned about and managing their children’s screen time, parents are faced with trying to decipher which platforms and websites offer educational content and age-appropriate entertainment. In the same Pew study, a majority of parents said their child (or children) watch videos daily on You Tube.

Overwhelming majorities of parents (93%) say YouTube keeps kids entertained, 88% believe it helps them learn, and 75% say it exposes them to diverse cultures.

And yet, the flip side shows that a large majority of parents are concerned about their kids being exposed to inappropriate content at early ages, brutal violence, and online bullying and harassment.

Parents are conflicted, if not downright confused, about parenting kids in the evolving, overwhelming world of social media.

Adding to that confusion, parents admit to having their own struggle with the use of smartphones and social media. In the Pew findings, 56% say they spend too much time on their phones. And, sadly, a majority say it gets in the way of spending quality time with their kids.

The Pew study didn’t make recommendations for stemming these concerns, but in the Surgeon General’s most recent advisory there were suggestions for parents, tech companies and policy makers.

Policy makers at all levels should make decisions centered around safety, privacy, and health concerns. Keep kids, not tech companies, at the forefront of those decisions. Require higher safety standards for kids.

Engage tech companies to put resources into research and monitoring of platforms and websites. Make them partners in raising safety standards.

Parents should learn as much as possible about the internet, privacy, and controls. Open conversations with kids about online rules and safety. Learn about their online community and get to know it as if it were their classroom.

Create family rules for social media use and be role models for them. Establish “phone free” family meals to promote conversation. Designate plug-in stations at home where kids and adults bring phones 30 minutes prior to bedtime to help promote quality sleep.

Bottom line: Parenting and social media are here to stay. We need to achieve a healthy balance, protect kids and we will all sleep better.


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