How to talk to kids about social media
Joy Cho is the founder and creative director of the lifestyle brand and design company Oh Joy! For two years in a row, she was named one of Time’s 30 Most Influential People on the Internet and has the most followed account on Pinterest with over 15 million followers. You can also follow her on Instagram and learn more about her work on ohjoy.com.
I’m part of the first generation of parents of children who’ve been exposed to the internet since birth. I remember the days without cellphones, email, social media, streaming TV shows and quick access to the web (hello, that AOL dial-up ringtone!). So often, I feel unsure about how to set up my kids for success with their own technology use – something my own parents never had to figure out.
Social media in particular can be scary to think about when it comes to my kids, but I know it can be great too. I’m a designer and business owner who has made amazing connections online, and it has allowed me to create my own community on the internet.
But I have also seen the toll social media takes: making unhealthy comparisons, doomscrolling and being unable to focus on one thing at a time. Do you often find yourself watching TV while also scrolling through Instagram on your phone? I sure do.
So how do we talk to our kids about social media?
First, consider your own habits
Every family is different and should handle the topic in a way that works for them. Just like rules for treats, chores, bedtime and allowance, social media is just another part of parenting that involves making the best choices for their family.
From my experience, as someone who spends a lot of social media for work, I believe that we should model the behavior we want our kids to have. Here are some things I’m doing and asking myself:
1. How much am I on social media? And what am I doing while there?
How much of that time is productive (creating community, catching up with friends, learning something) vs. how much of it feels like I’m on social media just to pass time?
Looking at our own habits first will better inform how we can be role models for our kids. If you feel that you’re on your device more than you’d want to, this is a great time to modify that before establishing what to expect of your kids.
2. How much privacy do I want?
I know some families who don’t post any photos of their kids online. And then some families share what feels like every moment of every day in their kids’ lives on a public social media account. Some people post photos but cover their kids’ faces or only show their kids from the back.
I used to share my kids’ photos and videos all the time when they were younger, but as they got older, I felt the need to protect their privacy more and more. Now, you will rarely see them on my public feeds. I use social media for business, and my kids are not part of my business, so now I make that distinction because that is what feels right for me and my family.
Your answer might be different. You might have 75 followers of your closest family and friends on a private account and social media is the easiest way to share updates about your family. Whatever you’re doing, make sure it’s intentional and feels right for you.
3. How can I use social media for good?
While social media often gets a bad rep, it also gives us incredible ways to connect with people, offer inspiration and keep us in tune with what’s going on in the world. Think about how you can, too, contribute to that positivity based on what you share and how you share it.
If there are accounts or people that bring upon feelings of comparison, anger or negativity in your daily scroll, consider muting those accounts or unfollowing. Don’t let anyone online steal your peace.
Reflect as a family
Once you’ve reflected and maybe changed a few of your own online habits, here are some questions to ask yourself about your kids’ tech use:
1. What devices and apps feel right for my kids at their current ages?
What am I OK with having my kids seeing or using based on their ages? And how will it change as they get older? At what age can they have their own iPad or their own phone?
My kids are 8 and 11 and neither of them have their own phones yet. They have iPads, and they have access to apps that my husband and I have approved and feel are age-appropriate. They both can be on YouTube Kids solo but can only watch YouTube on our family TV (where the adults can more quickly see and hear what they are watching). They have access to streaming channels under the child settings, which help us feel better about the things they may come across on their own.
2. What kind of limits make sense for social media or device time?
Most kids (and adults!) can’t self-limit their time on a device. So it can be good to set limits until kids can regulate themselves. You can choose to change those limits based on their ages, behavior or as a special reward. Whether that’s three hours per day or one hour per week, decide what you think is appropriate, but make sure to have the conversation with them about it, too.
3. Consider parental controls.
You can use family settings to limit time on devices and on specific apps. Some kids need their computer for homework, but you can define what they’ll be able to access and for how long, which helps set boundaries and stay on task for homework. Most streaming services also offer pre-set controls for kids as well. Weigh the benefits of these built-in safeguards based on your family’s needs.
4. How does using social media affect my kids?
Studies that come out on this topic paint a bleak picture. A report by the brand Dove found that idealized beauty advice on social media can cause low self-esteem in 50% of girls. So before your kids start on social platform, or even if they’re already active on them, you can ask them: Do you find yourself getting cranky when you’re on your device? Or sad, depressed, jealous, confused or angry? How can we prevent that from happening?
This is a good way to start discussing screen time, and having kids ask themselves how much screen time is too much. I find that some children have a major mood shift when they get a lot of screen time, and you can help them recognize that feeling, which will help their ability to regulate themselves.
5. How can my kids use the internet for good?
One thing that I like to remind myself is all the good that can come from the internet. My children have this incredible access to so much knowledge, most of the world’s art, connection to almost every part of the world and so many opportunities for fun and education. Depending on their age, their access and ability to use devices will vary. Can they play educational games or watch educational shows? Can they play games with their friends that allow them to socialize or learn how to work on a team? Can they watch craft videos and learn how to make something for the very first time? Look at the parts that are great about it and guide them in that direction.
Keep safety and privacy in mind
One thing to remember: Whatever I (or my kids) post on social media stays there forever.
While images, videos, tweets and messages can be deleted, information can resurface for others to still see, screenshot or save your content before it goes away. We’ve seen so many examples of past social media postings come back to hurt someone’s career or reputation, so make this clear to your children and keep the conversation going as they grow older.
I hope asking yourself these questions can help prepare you for having the “social media talk” with your own kids. You can always change it up and evolve your family’s take on it. Just as we need to modify things in other aspects of parenting, how our families handle the internet can evolve as technology changes, and as our kids, hopefully, grow up to be the most joyful versions of themselves.
The internet is a great place for families. It gives us new opportunities to discover the world, connect with others and just generally make our lives easier and more colorful. But it also comes with new challenges and complications for the people raising the next generations. Mozilla wants to help families make the best online decisions, whatever that looks like, with our latest series, The Tech Talk.