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How to navigate the virtual world with your children

Posted at 4:24 PM, Jan 31, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — Social media can be scary for many parents, especially after studies show a decrease in self confidence and perceptions of body image and worth. Even the Surgeon General said recently it may not be good for a child's developing brain to be on social media in their early teens.

"Obviously, you can’t get away from social media. You can’t get away from technology. As for our family we’ve kind of taken the avenue of well, you know, trying to balance it the best we can," said Chauri Hendrickson, the mother of four sons.

She and her husband, Ryan, have taken a wait and see approach with her kids; waiting for them to approach them and ask to go online before they determine whether or not they are old enough.

For now, the Hendricksons are talking and giving them other ways to develop worth and self confidence. Their boys are ages 6, 9, 11 and 13 and none have their own account yet.

"We hope to give them the tools they need and then ultimately to trust them, and trust that they’re going to make the right decisions, and if they don’t, then we can help get them on that right path again," added Hendrickson.

Chauri works as a secretary at Gunnison Valley Middle School and says she sees 6-8th graders always trying to get on various sites, even though there are multiple restrictions in place on school issued iPads,

"They're always trying to figure out a way to get around," she said. "You can never just ban something and think that will be the answer."

While social media sites require users to be 13 to create their own account, there's mounting data that may be too young.

"There’s data now that shows that you probably should not have these accounts probably at 13 or earlier for sure," said MountainStar Healthcare's chief medical officer Dr. Filip Roos. "You’re putting a 13 year old brain — an underdeveloped brain — against a software engineer who’s designing a product that’s intended to be engaging and a product that’s hard to leave and so it’s not a fair fight."

JAMA Pediatrics published a three year study of 6th and 7th graders showing a significant impact on the developing brain.

Dr. Roos suggests parents start talking to their kids about it early on and coming up with a plan together.

Hendrickson says it's hard enough to navigate social media as an adult.

"I think it’s hard. I mean, as a mom and social media for me. I think about how it can be hard for me, so I can only imagine the kids and how it can be hard for them," she said. "We try to get them involved in other things and try to build their confidence in other things.

MountainStar Healthcare provides tips for parents:

  1. Create a Family Media Plan: Helping your kids set priorities on what's most important to them and you.
  2. Be Upfront about your Rules/Guidelines: Time limits, allowed apps and how you'll monitor their use
  3. Help Your teen Understand and Curate their Feed: Take a look at who they follow and what's popping up on their timeline.
  4. Be a Good Example: Practice what you preach.

Finding the right age to allow a child to get on social media, or even have their own cellphone, can be different for every family. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a questionnaire to determine whether a child is ready.