By Michael Knight
Peer Power, Brisbane
There is one prominent sportsperson I have read about who has never had a problem with social media.
Throughout his 15-year career in the public spotlight, social media never bothered him.
But he had a special tactic – he didn’t use it at all. Not one personal account on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat or anywhere else. Problem avoided, problem solved.
But that player told his teammates one important thing – he left school as social media was only starting to rise and he knew it wasn’t easy for today’s teenagers to simply switch off their screens.
So, if it’s not easy for our young people to switch off, how do we suggest ways in which they can operate harmoniously on social media?
We visit schools across Queensland to deliver workshops on adolescent topics including a social media session entitled InstaLife: Mastering Social Media.
From our work in those schools and our research on the topic, here are five insights that we offer to parents about social media and their children:
- Discuss the known risks of social media and smartphone use
Our young people often don’t know the impacts that social media and screen time can have on their mood, their sleep, their development and their relationships. It’s important to discuss the risks. And social media doesn’t create a realistic expectation of life – the good times often seen in posts are different to the reality. The US National Library of Medicine has a report from the Canadian Medical Association Journal that has excellent insights into smartphones, social media and youth mental health.
- Consider proactive engagement in restricting use of smartphones
Parents should have a good idea of how long their children spend on their phones and social media each day. As studies show, the risks to mental health increase as usage increases. Consider what will work best for your child and then help to set usage times and locations – are common areas in the home the best place for social media use rather than a closed bedroom? And don’t forget that children model behaviour from parents – is your smartphone use getting between you and your relationship with a child?
- Banning all screen time can be counterproductive
It may seem the easiest solution for some parents but the prohibitionist approach can work against the main goal for children to make better choices with social media and screentime. Online relationships are part of typical adolescent development so banning all activity may work against the best outcomes.
- There are benefits to using social media
It’s not all bad – social media can help to foster media literacy, creativity, self-expression and a sense of belonging for young people. Smartphones provide access to crisis lines and internet-based help should young people require someone outside of family or school to speak with.
- Help students to help themselves
There are activities that can help young people to think critically about their smartphone use. Here’s one:
Ask your child to pick one app on their phone (or one that they’re interested in) and spend time critically thinking about:
- What do they know about the app?
- What do they like about the app?
- What does the app say matters in life?
- What good does the app achieve?
Social media and smartphones are here to stay but we can help our young people to make informed decisions on their use.
Michael Knight is an Adolescentologist with Peer Power which works with students in schools across Queensland and beyond. peerpower.com.au