Set social media guidelines including texting for your teens.
At 6:30 A.M. Eli awakens and checks his text messages on the way to the shower. He watches a video as he gets dressed, then goes to the kitchen for a quick bite. Laughing at a Snapchat photo on his cell phone, he heads out the door. At school, Eli does research on a school computer, and reads his e-mail on his phone. He checks his Facebook and Twitter accounts multiple times throughout the day. When he gets home, Eli joins an online video game while streaming some of his favorite music. He finishes his homework with the help of the Internet, and spends the night texting friends and watching a movie he downloaded.
Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Google, e-mail, streaming, online gaming and texting are common among today’s kids and teens. Every generation has explored new media —including radio in the 1920s and television in the 1940s. Writers in the mid-twentieth century wrote about how young people were experiencing history in an uncensored way. Most of today’s parents did not get their first cell phone or computer until they were adults. But now, 78 percent of teens have a cell phone (half of which are smartphones), 95 percent use the Internet, and 93 percent have a computer or computer access. Kids today truly are experiencing history as it happens, and may be making it as well.
As with all new media and technology, there are great positive possibilities. Media can shape a child’s attitudes, beliefs and behaviors — which may be good or bad, depending on the content, context or co-viewing with parents. Some programming, Web sites and games have pro-social benefits, and the Internet can contribute to academic success. A growing number of students use their cell phones to look up information and work on assignments. Kids experiencing chronic health problems may find many sites offering emotional and social support. Families can stay better connected with texting and become stronger as a unit. Media and technology can have a profound impact on physical, mental and emotional health, but we must ensure that any negative effects are controlled.
It should come as no surprise that teens are online more than adults and spend particularly more time on social media, according to the Pew Research Center. Teens use social network sites such as Facebook extensively, and the use of immediate social communication applications such as Twitter and Instagram are growing. Teens, particularly girls, are much more likely to use texting than to use e-mail. In fact, texting is their preferred method of communication.
These immediate communication outlets have given young people a way to participate in the world around them. This open environment has low barriers and gives them a way to feel that their contributions and opinions matter. It provides them a social connection with one another.
With smartphone technology, immediate sharing and conversations occur that can affect how teens see their daily life experiences. This is not all bad, as long as the peer community is appropriate. Another concern is that today’s teens are willing to share more personal information than teens in the past. The majority of teens share e-mail addresses and photos — along with information about their school and city. One in five teens even share their cell phone number.
Perhaps surprisingly, some teen users are concerned about online privacy. Most use the private setting on their Facebook account, but a large percentage are less careful on Twitter and send tweets publicly. Most admit to regretting a post at some time and work to protect their online reputations by blocking and deleting access to other users. Most parents have concerns about the risk of predatory strangers online. You need to be aware of whom your kids are talking to or texting with, what they’re saying and how. While recognizing that teens need privacy, in order to keep them safe, you should require that you are “friended” and can follow them through their social media activities. Young people don’t always have the maturity to grasp the possible negative consequences of their actions.
Another concern for young people using social media is their becoming a target of cruelty. When asked about cyberbullying, over 40 percent of teen users reported having a negative experience on social media. Cyberbullying occurs when technology is used to harass, torment, threaten or embarrass anyone. The frequency of cyberbullying is not well understood, as teens have a tendency to underreport and often refer to what an adult might consider bullying behavior as drama. When a teen refers to drama on Facebook, it may be a situation in which she is being victimized.
You also should be aware of inappropriate context exposure, including pornography. At least 15 percent of teens admit to receiving a text or picture with sexual content. Communicating openly with your teen can help prevent future incidents and foster appropriate values and responses related to sexual content. Check in on your child’s social media accounts and screen her Web browser history. Teach your child to reject negative messages about unhealthy body image and gender stereotyping.
All media are full of opportunities for exposure to excessive violence. Nearly half the video games on the market contain violence. Many are first-person shooter games, in which the player acts in the role of someone shooting his victims. As societal standards change, children are witnessing more and more aggressive and violent content. The association between media and real-life violence is strong. There is also strong evidence that media violence can increase aggressive behavior in kids. The best protection is limiting exposure. There are rating systems for TV, movies and games that help to avoid inappropriate content. Some parents may believe that their child will not be affected. However, research shows that the problem of inappropriate content should be taken quite seriously.
The average child spends seven hours a day using media, reducing time available for healthier activities. Compounding the issue, kids are exposed to advertisements for unhealthy food options, and unhealthy eating is more likely to occur during media time. Studies have shown that teens develop addictive behaviors with social media, negatively impacting the amount and quality of sleep. Lack of sleep has a direct impact on a child’s general health, including the potential for obesity, poor academic performance and emotional health problems. You need to set a lights-out time for cell phones, tablets and computers. You may need to have your kids place their devices in a common area in order to resist late-night usage.
Because excessive time spent with media can be harmful to kids, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that screen time be limited to two hours per day. Screen time includes TV, computers, game systems, cell phones, hand-held video games and any other electronic media device. You are encouraged to establish a screen-free zone, removing these devices from your child’s bedroom and turning the TV off during meal times. Doing so improves sleep quality, increases family time, and allows for more outside play, physical activity, imaginative play, hobbies and other activities.
Eli’s day is typical for today’s teen. In addition to monitoring our kids’ media usage, we need to limit their technology time. Talk to your kids, and work together to develop guidelines on media usage. Healthy media habits will contribute to a healthier, happier family.
Tami Bland, DNP, APRN, CPNP, is a clinical assistant professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and has practiced as a PNP for 20 years. She currently practices in a nurse-managed, school-based health center in Knoxville.