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Facebook and Social Media: What Parents Need to Know to Keep Their Child Safe Online

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Dr. Meg Meeker

I am sure you saw Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, in the news a while back. A few months ago, he testified before Congress about the company’s breach in privacy, releasing personal information of millions of their users.

Whenever issues like this come up in the news, we start asking big questions about technology, social media, and its uses. Is it safe? Is it good for us? Has it gotten out of control?

If you’re a parent, you are asking these questions in regards to your children. Should you allow them to be on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat? What dangers does this put them in? How do you monitor what they do online?

It is good that companies like Facebook are being called to a higher accountability, but what happens in this trial and with social media in the future is largely out of our control. We cannot control what Mark Zuckerberg or any other tech CEO does, however, you can control how you and your family will interact with social media and technology.

You can control how you and your family will interact with social media and technology.

The temptation for parents is to think that they have no control over what their child does online. This isn’t true. Parents, you are in control of your child’s technology use; it is not in control of you. As I often say, parent from a place of confidence, rather than fear. This is true in all areas of parenting and especially in the world of social media. Just because the social media landscape is ever-changing, doesn’t mean your influence over your child is.

Technology in and of itself is not evil, but the overuse of it, just like overeating, is what you want to avoid. My friend Dr. Josh Straub, who is a psychologist and technology expert, told me that recent studies have found that kids under the age of five spend an average of 40% of their waking hours in front of a screen. Parents, that’s too much!

Just because the social media landscape is ever-changing, doesn’t mean your influence over your child is.

If you choose to allow your child to use social media, it is so important to begin by setting healthy boundaries in your home around screen time. Boundaries around screen time and the internet is the first step in ensuring your child stays safe online and learns how to use technology in a healthy way.

I remember one summer when my kids were younger, my husband and I decided to turn the T.V. off for the entire summer. This was before smartphones, so this was a big deal. The first two weeks of summer were miserable. We really didn’t know what to do with ourselves without that screen to look at, but after a few weeks, we got used to it. My kids even liked it. They played with each other and their friends, and in the end, we were all able to be more present that summer.

I’m not saying get rid of screens entirely, but consider what boundaries would make sense for you and your family. For instance, no laptops or phones in the bedroom is a good general rule for everyone. You could also say no phones at dinner, or you could designate a time on the weekend that everybody will leave their phone at home and you’ll get out of the house together as a family and do something. You know your family. What would work best for you?

Don’t let the news scare you. Social media is not in control of your child; you are. Set healthy boundaries, be strict about them, follow them yourself. This will teach your child the invaluable lesson that he can control his behavior, even with something as addicting as social media.

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