Pediatricians are adding another topic to their list of questions for visits with school-aged and adolescent patients: Are you on Facebook? Recognizing the increasing importance of all types of media in their young patients' lives, pediatricians often hear from parents who are concerned about their children's engagement with social media.
To help address the many effects-both positive and negative-that social media use has on youth and families, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued a new clinical report, "The Impact of Social Media Use on Children, Adolescents and Families," in the April issue of Pediatrics (published online March 28). The report offers background on the latest research in this area, and recommendations on how pediatricians, parents and youth can successfully navigate this new mode of communication.
"For some teens and tweens, social media is the primary way they interact socially, rather than at the mall or a friend's house," said Gwenn O'Keeffe, MD, FAAP, co-author of the clinical report. "A large part of this generation's social and emotional development is occurring while on the Internet and on cell phones. Parents need to understand these technologies so they can relate to their children's online world - and comfortably parent in that world."
See Dr. O'Keeffe discussing social media in the following videos:
Balancing Media Use With Other Activities
Today's Digital Kids
Don't Fear Social Media
According to a Common Sense Media poll from August 2009, 22 percent of teenagers log on to their favorite social media site more than 10 times a day, and more than half of adolescents log on to a social media site more than once a day. Seventy-five percent of teens now own cell phones, and 25 percent use them for social media, 54 percent for texting, and 24 percent for instant messaging.
The new AAP guidelines include recommendations for pediatricians to help families navigate the social media landscape, including:
- Advise parents to talk to children and adolescents about their online use and the specific issues that today's online kids face, such as cyberbullying, sexting, and difficulty managing their time.
- Advise parents to work on their own "participation gap" in their homes by becoming better educated about the many technologies their children are using.
- Discuss with families the need for a family online-use plan, with an emphasis on citizenship and healthy behavior.
- Discuss with parents the importance of supervising online activities via active participation and communication, not just via monitoring software.
The AAP report outlines the positive effects of social media. Engagement in social media and online communities can enhance communication, facilitate social interaction and help develop technical skills. They can help tweens and teens discover opportunities to engage in the community by volunteering, and can help youth shape their sense of identity. These tools also can be useful adjuncts to-and in some cases are replacing-traditional learning methods in the classroom.
But because tweens and teens have a limited capacity for self-regulation and are susceptible to peer pressure, they are at some risk as they engage in and experiment with social media, according to the report. They can find themselves on sites and in situations that are not age-appropriate, and research suggests that the content of some social media sites can influence youth to engage in risky behaviors. In addition, social media provides venues for cyberbullying and sexting, among other dangers. Youth who are more at-risk offline tend to also be more at-risk online.
"Some young people find the lure of social media difficult to resist, which can interfere with homework, sleep and physical activity," Dr. O'Keeffe said. "Parents need to understand how their child is using social media so that they can set appropriate limits."
Parents also should educate their children about the ways social media sites can capture personal information about users, Dr. O'Keeffe said. Young people can harm their reputations and safety by posting personal and inappropriate information. And information about sites they visit may be captured and used to target them with advertising.
For additional resources about online safety for children and teens, visit SafetyNet.org.
For more media information, listen to the HealthyChildren Radio podcasts below.
HealthyChildren Radio: Social Media
Gwenn O'Keeffe, MD, FAAP, discusses the new guidelines on Healthy Children Radio.
Segment 1: Social Media and Your Kids
Segment 2: How Your Kids Can Live With Less Technology