Parents, it is important for you to understand that internet use and social media pose serious dangers to your children. These dangers include cyberbullying, invasion of privacy, identity theft, your child seeing offensive images and messages, and the presence of strangers who may be there to “groom” your children for membership.
Social media use is also associated with increases in anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, sleep deprivation, anger, envy/jealousy, impeding social skills development, sadness, loneliness, and dependence in terms of fear of missing out if they are not up to date with social media posts, feeling attached to devices such as the phone.
One danger that parents are often unaware of is that mobile phones are the main source of brain exposure to radiation. This microwave radiation can cause adverse reactions in the central nervous system leading to sleep disorders, learning problems, and memory impairments. In fact, pulsed microwaves lead to significant leakage of albumin through the blood-brain barrier, which results in neuronal damage in the cortex, hippocampus, and basal ganglia (Salfod et al., Environ Health Perspect, 2003. June 111(7) 881-883.
- 75 percent of American teenagers have social media profiles
- 51 percent of teens visit social networking sites on a daily basis
- More than a third of teens visit their main social networking site several times a day
- 1 in 4 teens is a heavy social media user, using at least two different types of social media each day
Obviously, social media is not going to disappear. So, the issue we face is how parents can protect their children. If your child is being bullied on the internet, sad, depressed, isolating, anxious, having problems learning or remembering, here are some steps I recommend.
- Monitor the content your child accesses on the internet so you can discuss things that give biased information and help them problem-solve when things on the internet are upsetting them.
- Limit time on the internet. I recommend no more than 60 minutes a day. This is crucial for many reasons. First, it minimizes brain exposure to radiation. Second, it leaves time for your child to engage in other essential activities – such as face-to-face time with friends, chores at home, a part-time job, reading, doing homework, playing games with the family, visiting extended family members, and exercising. Encouraging an active lifestyle helps your children avoid diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and risk of certain cancers at a later age.
- Since many children become addicted to their devices, it is strongly recommended that you turn off the router in your home automatically two hours before your child’s bedtime. This will improve the quality of their sleep and avoid many effects of sleep deprivation which include, weakened immunity, memory issues, mood changes, trouble thinking and concentrating, increased accidents, weight gain, increased risk for diabetes, risk of heart disease, and poor balance.
- Be a good role model. Don’t let the use of tech distract you from interacting with your spouse or your children. Spend time talking during dinner, read books together or play games together after dinner. Engage in sports together. Use technology only as needed so that you are not isolating from those who are important to you and not teaching your children to do so.
- Encourage your teen to choose to put their devices down by offering them other activities that are more alluring. Going to the range with dad, doing a scavenger hunt with mom, renting a rowboat to go fishing, attending a sculpture class with a sibling, attending a baseball game as a family may all be more enjoyable for your child than isolating on technology.
- Summertime is a time when many children and teens spend increasing amounts of time on the internet. To avoid this, help your child engage actively in life over the summer. Consider summer camps, unique community classes such as a class in robotics, a class to learn how to do nails, fix an engine, or encourage martial arts participation. In short, provide the structure and opportunities for your child to be physically active and in face-to-face contact with others.
- Focus on self-education. Encourage your child to read widely. Read the same books as they do and have family discussions about those books. Encourage your child to write or draw about things that are of importance to them in the world around them. Take them to volunteer in local soup kitchens or to help local seniors who are isolated. Take them to visit college campuses, Maybe spend Saturdays making family day trips to small unique historical attractions. Do some arts and crafts together to make unique, high-quality decorations for the holidays. Perhaps make a family slide show of such activities to share with grandparents.
If these suggestions sound like they require effort on your part, they do. To parent well, we need to act with intention. We can’t just tell our children not to waste their time on the internet. We need to offer meaningful alternatives and real role modeling. We need to help our children understand that life is about relationships and that relationships require interaction on a regular basis where we give and take; caring for each other through the positive and the negative events of life. We need to help our children understand that relationships are more than texts and posts. They require face-to-face interaction. Parenting with intention will help your child become a well-adjusted adult who recognizes their responsibility to care for themselves and others. Rules and laws do not improve behavior. Teaching, demonstrating, and rewarding values do. So, the question for you, moms and dads, is: do you value the ease of your child on the internet or quality time with your child?
Presented as a community service by
Susan L.Crum, Ph.D.