social media

*adapted from HealthyChildren.org
According to a Common Sense Media poll from August 2009, 22 percent of teenagers log on to their favorite social media site more than 10 times a day, and more than half of adolescents log on to a social media site more than once a day. Seventy-five percent of teens now own cell phones, and 25 percent use them for social media, 54 percent for texting, and 24 percent for instant messaging. Given the prevalence of social media, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) addressed the issue last month with a new report. (Full version here.)

The new AAP guidelines include recommendations for pediatricians to help families navigate the social media landscape, including:

  • Advise parents to talk to children and adolescents about their online use and the specific issues that today’s online kids face, such as cyberbullying, sexting, and difficulty managing their time.
  • Advise parents to work on their own “participation gap” in their homes by becoming better educated about the many technologies their children are using.
  • Discuss with families the need for a family online-use plan, with an emphasis on citizenship and healthy behavior.
  • Discuss with parents the importance of supervising online activities via active participation and communication, not just via monitoring software.

The AAP report outlines the positive effects of social media. Engagement in social media and online communities can enhance communication, facilitate social interaction and help develop technical skills. They can help tweens and teens discover opportunities to engage in the community by volunteering, and can help youth shape their sense of identity. These tools also can be useful adjuncts to-and in some cases are replacing-traditional learning methods in the classroom.

But because tweens and teens have a limited capacity for self-regulation and are susceptible to peer pressure, they are at some risk as they engage in and experiment with social media, according to the report. They can find themselves on sites and in situations that are not age-appropriate, and research suggests that the content of some social media sites can influence youth to engage in risky behaviors. In addition, social media provides venues for cyberbullying and sexting, among other dangers. Youth who are more at-risk offline tend to also be more at-risk online.

“Some young people find the lure of social media difficult to resist, which can interfere with homework, sleep and physical activity,” Dr. O’Keeffe said. “Parents need to understand how their child is using social media so that they can set appropriate limits.”

Parents also should educate their children about the ways social media sites can capture personal information about users, Dr. O’Keeffe said. Young people can harm their reputations and safety by posting personal and inappropriate information. And information about sites they visit may be captured and used to target them with advertising.

For additional resources about online safety for children and teens, visit SafetyNet.org.

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