Editorial Roundup: Parents must teach social medial safety

Published 8:50 pm Tuesday, June 6, 2023

If you’re waiting for tech companies to do what’s best for your children, they might be fully grown before you see many protections put in place.

Instead, parents should pay attention to U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s recent warning that not enough evidence exists to proclaim social media is safe for children and teens.

Up to 95% of youth ages 13 to 17 report using a social media platform, with more than a third saying they use social media almost constantly, according to the Pew Research Center.

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Murthy has been traveling the country talking to parents and kids about the youth mental health crisis and said the most common question he gets from parents is whether social media is safe for their children.

He is urging families to take action to protect their kids from harm. Those steps include creating boundaries, such as limiting use of electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime and through the night to aid sleep. He also encourages keeping mealtimes and in-person gatherings device free to help build social bonds and engage in conversations.

Those seem like common-sense tips, but many kids have a difficult time putting down devices. Even though platforms have said 13 is the age at which people can start using their platforms, 40% of kids ages 8-12 are on social media, Murthy said.

Guidelines should be part of family talks so kids understand why boundaries are necessary. The surgeon general says a family media plan can promote open discussion and rules about media use and include topics such as balancing screen/online time, content boundaries and not disclosing personal information.

Parents also need to stress the need for their children to reach out for help if social media is causing anxiety or kids are feeling threatened or pressured in their interactions. Young people are vulnerable to bullying and to adults preying upon them by pretending to be other kids.

Beyond creating the social media boundaries that protect their children, parents also should contact lawmakers in pressuring tech companies to establish better protection and to do so quickly before more damage is done.

And there is proof of damage. Meta studied the effects of Instagram on teen mental health years ago and found the peer pressure generated by the app led to mental health and body-image problems, and in some cases, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts in teens. An estimated 1,385 children are known to have died from the blackout challenge, which circulated on social media and involves people holding their breath until they pass out, according to the nonprofit Erik’s Cause.

Social media is not inherently evil, just like motorized vehicles are not evil even though people are hurt in crashes. But without sufficient knowledge and training, you wouldn’t want kids to take to the roads. Children and teens need to know how to navigate social media, and parents need to take the wheel on teaching them how to do so.

— Mankato Free Press, June 5

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Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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