Parents, we understand the challenges of parenting in our digital age. There are obviously trade offs when deciding what if any social media or communication apps to provide your kids. As adults, we are comfortable with technology playing a key role in our lives and as tools necessary for productivity. However, for kids they are more likely to be entertainment at their best. At their worst, as Collin explains in the video referenced below, social media can be like giving a kid keys to the car without drivers ed.
Kids face pressure to fit in and may use this as a reason to justify getting technology because ‘they are the only ones without x” (games, apps, latest phone, etc).
This article is focused on providing references for parents considering giving their kids social media for the first time or dealing with issues that may arise afterwards. It’s not app-by-app advice as you can find on many sites. Rather, I focus on the important things to consider.
These resources mostly suggest limiting social media for kids. This is not an intentional bias but rather reflects my research where we haven’t seen a positive argument for social media being a good influence for kids (if I’ve missed something let me know). There are plenty of suggestions for lessening the risks of social media, but in our opinion this is different than a positive endorsement.
As a parent of 4 kids ages 6-14, I have spent many hours conversing in parenting groups on reddit and Facebook for example, reading blogs and more. Most opinions are well-intentioned and many are helpful. However, I highly suggest these authoritative sources as a good investment of your time given the impact these decisions will have on your kid’s well-being.
A main theme is how social media prevents kids from being kids by preventing real connections. The power of Collin’s talk is that he shares many personal notes from kids. He shares their honest thoughts and not what they say when they’re trying to convince their parents of something.
For example, in response to the question: ‘what do your parents not know about social media?” kids say things like “it makes me very very very insecure” and “it nearly ended my life.” As a parent, it’s heart wrenching to see these notes written by the children and image what they must be feeling. Even more pointedly, what the children must think about us parents enabling this harm.
Anecdotally, an ER doctor shares his experience that attempted or completed teen suicides are attributable to only two things: 1) parents took away the kid's cell phone; or 2) cyberbullying on social media.
Collin argues the costs to smartphones is too great to allow them to interfere with our relationships with our kids. Hence, the title of the talk that flip phones could solve our problems.
American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers (Amazon)
By Nancy Jo Sales
Tristan provides a good summary of the talk around the 6th minute:
I'm here today because the costs are so obvious. I don't know a more urgent problem than this, because this problem is underneath all other problems. It's not just taking away our agency to spend our attention and live the lives that we want, it's changing the way that we have our conversations, it's changing our democracy, and it's changing our ability to have the conversations and relationships we want with each other. And it affects everyone, because a billion people have one of these in their pocket.
The three radical changes to fix the fundamental problem of our time:
10 reasons to delete your social media accounts right now (read my summary)
By Jaron Lanier
Main reason it’s the runner up is that it’s a book and not a video.
This is the book for data geeks who want proof. Dr. Twenge uses survey data to produce a longitudinal study of how generations compare to one another. It’s a useful methodology as it isolates how the most recent, iGeneration, is different from even the millenials that came immediately before them.
It’s easy to think that there have been other major technology shifts from the television to the internet to smart phones and now social media. However, the data clearly shows that this time it’s different. Around 2011 when the majority of teens began to own smartphones, there have been scary increases in depression, feeling lonely and suicide. More so than any other time in the last several decades.
There are hundreds of popular books on parenting, and dozens focused on technology many of which I’ve read. I recommend Reset because I credit it with helping my family overcome technology addiction. You can read more on how it helped my family here.
The book provides a helpful background on why Electronic Screen Time is harmful for the brain. Kids, who still have developing brains, are particularly susceptible. This knowledge is great in and of itself, and is invaluable when talking with a teen who is likely to challenge everything you say as a parent.
After providing the medical and scientific foundation in the first 126 pages, Dr. Dunckley provides a step-by-step for “a 4-week plan to reset your child’s brain.” It explains the why behind all the steps, and includes useful checklists and talking points as you work with your partner and child.
After completing the reset, the final section of the book helps you design a future plan that works for you, ranging from elimination to moderation. My interpretation is that Dr. Dunckley’s professional opinion favors less screen time for kids, the book fairly presents options and guidance on what to do if the chosen option proves to be less than ideal.
The book’s pragmatism is appreciated and the practical guide is the reason it’s my recommendation for parents.
I hope these resources give you enough information to confidently design a phone and social media plan for your family. Our mission is to help parents provide safe and healthy technology to kids. We have incorporated all the wisdom from these experts and more to accomplish that mission.
Please send me your feedback, questions or let me know what other resources you would recommend (firstname.lastname@example.org)