diving through instagram live ring into ocean with social media icons

It’s almost summer… a time of transition for many children as they move away from their structured routines of the school day to less structured (and sometimes unsupervised) environments. This time of transition allows many kids the opportunity to consume massive amounts of online content via social media. So, how do we as adults help them maintain their emotional well-being and empower them to manage the content they consume and create? 

It starts with building our own social media literacy skills. This process may seem overwhelming, but it all comes down to:

  • Being willing to learn more about why our children use social media in the way that they do.
  • Accepting that the content our children consume shapes their behavior and influences their well-being. 

It doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Get the conversation started with these five questions:

  • How does the content you consume make you feel? 
    • It’s easy for kids to find themselves comparing their lives and real-life reflections in the mirror to what they see online. This can create feelings of dissatisfaction and low self-esteem as evidenced in this quote from a 13 year old Instagram user who participated in the Common Sense 2023 Teens and Mental Health: How Girls Really Feel About Social Media Study: “I had unrealistic ideas of what I should look like and how my life should be.”
    • On the flip side, social media can be a positive experience for many teens, allowing them to connect to others and find content that aligns with their interests and identities. 
    • As adults, we can help our children develop self-awareness by highlighting the importance of being mindful of how the content they see online is making them feel. We can encourage them to seek out content and connections that have a positive impact on their lives while reducing their consumption of content that makes them feel inadequate, isolated, or unhappy.
  • How can you control what you see in your social feeds?
    • Social media platforms use sets of programming rules called algorithms to supply viewers with content that matches topics they have searched for or previously viewed.
    • Algorithms ensure that you see a constant stream of similar content, even if the content is upsetting or encourages negative behavior.
    • Children can control this content by using algorithms to alter what they see. Searching for positive content will bring more positive content to their feeds, resulting in a healthier and happier online experience.
  • What app features do you choose to use and why?
    • Each social media platform has app features that make it appealing to users, like location sharing, filters, endless scrolling, recommended videos, or private messaging. Learning more about how your child uses their apps this summer will ensure a safe, fun, and balanced digital experience. Some features to consider are:
      • Location Sharing (SnapChat, Life360)
      • Filters (SnapChat, Instagram)
      • Live Streaming (Twitch, Instagram, YouTube Live, Facebook Live, Yubo)
      • Random chat/video with strangers (Omegle, HOLLA, Chatroulette, Skout)
      • Anonymous messaging (TextMe, Ask.fm., Lipsi, Qooh.me, Tellonym)
  • Have you ever participated in a TikTok challenge and/or do you plan to this summer and why? 
    • TikTok is popular, in part, due to their viral challenges. The challenges can range from fun dance routines to risky behavior/dangerous challenges – spending more time online could open the door for your child to participate in one of these challenges.
    • If you can identify your child’s motivation for participating in challenges, you will have a better chance of helping them think critically about which challenges they should skip.
      • Directly address any dangerous or illegal aspects of the challenge and be up front with your child about the possible consequences of participating in the challenge.
  • What do we do if social media is starting to make you anxious or depressed?
    • Research has shown that while social media can be positive for teens, it can also increase feelings of anxiety and depression in some. It is important to check in with your kids and make sure they are aware of how they are feeling when they use social media. If social media is having a negative effect on their mental health, as a family:
      • Take a break – gain some outside perspective and get a reprieve from some of the pressure. 
      • Balance online and offline activities – take a walk, play a game, read a book. 
      • Create a Summer Family Media Agreement 

We hope that these questions lead to some great conversations with your children. Taking the extra time to learn about their online world and the content they’re consuming is equally important to the steps you take to understand their face-to-face friendships and activities that interest them. In doing this, you help ensure that your children have a safe and positive experience online. 

For additional tips related to summer and tech, we encourage you to check out our previous post DigCit Tips for a Safe and Balanced Summer.