Kids and Social Media. A Plan to Keep Them Safe- Free From Depression And FOMO (2023)

Every parent gets it. Getting a Social Media Account is a rite of passage for their child.

US Surgeon General Advisory, May, 2023

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The Surgeon General warns of a Profound Risk Of Harm for kids. Not just from Social Media, but from Screen Time in General.

Using a Smartphone, staring at the screen, going on social media-- it's all just part of growing up today.

And just like it's Mom and Dad's job to keep them safe and confident as they learn to cross the street, do their homework, play their sport, refine a creative talent or drive a car, parents are now tasked with the job of helping them be successful on Social Media.

  • What Research Says About Kids and Social Media Use
  • Social Media Pros and Cons
  • The Potential Risks of Social Media
  • Social Media Safety Laws Recently Passed
  • Helping your child navigate social media safely and joyfully
  • The Tech Wellness Family Social Media Plan

Government Warnings, Laws, Scary Research.

For now, it's up to us. Parents and Caregivers first and foremost. And of course, Schools can be helpful as well.- But we must immediately make social media safer for kids- because the number of kids using it is sky rocketing.

The latest from the Surgeon General, Pew Research and the Boston Children's Digital Lab is in and it aligns with other studies showing that over 94% of teens have access to a smartphone or a device.

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Here's the Social Media Of Choice For Teens Today-Topping the List, YouTube:

The chart below compares which social media channels teens used most, to what they were on almost a decade ago:

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Teens don't just have social media accounts, they visit them just about everyday- and just about 20% said they use them constantly!

But of course, Social Media can be pretty great actually.

PRO'S: Social Media Can Help Your child:

  • Stay connected to extended family and friends
  • Connect to school activities, teachers, and classes.
  • Foster healthy friendships at school and online-It’s called Bonding Social Capital and Social Support. You can read more about it below
  • Stay up on current trends and important cultural events
  • Enhance their creativity by sharing ideas about music, hobbies, sports and art.
  • Express and develop their talents by producing artful, interesting content
  • Share their feelings and thoughts about their passions, ideas and what’s important to them.
  • Create and Develop their unique Brand

CON'S: Social Media Can Cause Distress for your child:

  • FOMO Fear of Missing Out is real. So is seeing that you have been left out of a fun event your friends had;
  • They can have a false sense of security- thinking they really are connected to a friend when really, the relationship superficial;
  • Social Comparison. It's nothing new- but it manifests differently online and can cause depression and anxiety. Read more about it below;
  • Can expose them to real scary online dangers for kids like cyber bullying, adult content and porn, and online predators and ads;
  • Can Harm Their Brand. What your kids post could harm their reputations. What’s posted online lives on permanently somewhere, even if it’s deleted. Kids choices are not adult choices and they may be unfairly judged by a picture they post or something they say.
  • A safety risk. Your child’s location and activity may be tracked. Links to ads on social media can ask for private details.
  • It can lower their self esteem in many ways:
    • Selfies and Body image: A study showed that simply by taking and posting a selfie, girls reported less confidence and lower self esteem
    • Lowered self esteem by posting something on social media and someone does not like their post, they may be engulfed in guilt. They may be worried that they said something wrong, they may spend hours fretting over one single post.
    • Lowered self esteem because they may have a "post persona" where they mimic or pretend to be someone they're not- like an influencer perhaps;
  • Finally, they may just become obsessed with social media. Even addicted. I share some great research on this below.

Your child's journey through Social Media can be productive or perilous.

That's why the Surgeon General has called for Tech Companies, Researchers and Lawmakers to do more. Here's a copy of the May 2023 Report Summary.

Just today Montana banned Tik Tok

Meanwhile, both conservative and liberal states passed landmark laws to make it safer and less addicting. I've read them both. And I'm betting many parents will find them a welcome relief.

Utah passed Social Media Safety and Privacy laws for kids under 18:

  • Parents will have to give the written permission for their kids to have an account
  • No social media from 10:30 pm to 6:30 am without parent's permission
  • Parents will be able to see all activity on their kid'
    s accounts
  • No ads can be shown on social media feeds
  • Apps won't be allowed to show any content or have a design that is known to be addictive
  • No direct messaging that isn't to "friends"
  • Apps will have to dispose of any personal information they have on kids.

California passed a Children's Online Safety and Privacy law too. By default, after July 1st, when a kid uses any online product or service, this would happen:

  • the highest privacy options would be enabled by default
  • Location, Siri, Public Account, Camera and Photos all would be OFF
  • A Notice will pop up, written for kids, explaining policies and standards
  • No personal information will be collected, no selling, no geo-location

META's Facebook and Instagram, YouTube, SnapChat, Discord, Tumblr, Twitter- Reddit, in fact, any app or website will be held to these rules.

And as you might expect, lawsuits have has already been filed to try and stop these new laws or bans from going into effect.

And you be won't be surprised whose behind the lawsuit: NetChoice is the industry group that includes members like Amazon, Google, Meta, and TikTok.

Even if these new Social Media laws are stopped by the industry, they certainly garnered a lot of attention.

Think of them as a HUGE flashing yellow light. The laws tell us loud and clear that something has to be done to keep kids from all the pitfalls involved in using social media.

It's good to remember that each social media platform- from YouTube to TikTok is a For Profit Corporation. They are in business not so much to help us connect or stay current on the latest fashion and trends, but to make money.

Because profit means more time on site, the sites show them things that may be unrealistic, even posts that are contrived- just to get attention. And keep those young eyeballs glued to their phones.

It seems so real and so innocent at first—Oh wow, Lela had the best birthday party and all her other middle school friends are on TikTok- she wants to post that video of all the girls holding hands and jumping in the water at the same time— ahhhhh so cute. So Fun.

Mom helps her open the account, Dad helps her make the boomerang and so it goes. You all gather round as the likes and comments come in. Lela! “Your party! That cake! Love you!”

And so it begins. All the joy and excitement, from real friends no less- this is what social media was meant to be.

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But for TikTok, Snap Chat, Instagram and the others- this isn’t about Lela’s party or her friends, it’s about the potential for all of them to become customers who like and buy via their platforms.. It’s about getting Lela’s attention and figuring out what she likes and what she wants to see more of, so they can hook her into being on their app more. And Longer. The more time she spends looking at her feed, the more ads she’ll see and the more money Tik Tok, SnapChat, Intstagram or Discord will make.

Know that your kids will be sucked in. It’s called the Hook Model and Nir Eyal coined the term that consists of triggers and intermittent reinforcement to get your kids- and your kids mom and dad into a behavior habit. The habit of checking the feed.

Triggers: Things like Notifications or Likes or friends posts, cause us to engage.
Intermittent Reinforcement is how as users we get rewards- like emoji's or ads with music at random intervals.

The problem with dopamine is that it feels so good, you want more and that can lead eventually to addiction.

Let them know how, if their old enough to understand, how this works. It's helpful to be aware that the people who design the apps realize that their brains can start requiring more and more stimulation to produce the "dopamine hit" and that means they’ll want to go on their accounts more and more. Let them know that More and More isn’t necessarily the right thing to do.

That's why it's important to be mindful of how much time and attention the social feeds are taking and help them take control of how much and how long and how often they go on their social channels

Life in Balance is Key. Time outside, in books, in school, in play, all balanced with time on social media. A Social Media Success Plan can help with this concept.

This is really important to tell your teen and older. With everything going on in the world, Social Media can start to feel like a news source. Let them know that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and others compete for their attention and then try and keep them from jumping off their platforms on to another. They don’t care what they see, as long as your kids keep looking.

The information is not vetted to be exact, true, correct, appropriate or not- Nice stuff or mean stuff- it’s all the same as long as you child keeps coming back and scrolling.

Twitter, Google, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Others Are Not "News" Channels

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They really need to know this— or at least you do to guide them. The algorithms these social platforms use can think they know what your kid wants based on what they’ve looked at and then they keep showing more and more and more of that kind of thing or point of view, until your child might believe that what's on their feed is the undeniable truth.

Sometimes it is. But sometimes it absolutely isn’t.

When an algorithm is harmful, distressing, unfair or manipulative- it can be downright malicious, I like to call those algorithms "malgorithms."

Malgoithms can lead to What's Called A Filter Bubble

Although some claim it doesn't exist, Wikipedia defines filter bubble this way: "A state of intellectual isolation that allegedly can result because an algorithm selectively guesses what information users would like to see based on user searches, location, and click behavior. As a result, users become separated from information that disagrees with their viewpoints.


Did you know that your teen could watch days of videos from people who claim the world is flat? But just because they can watch it, doesn’t make it true.

A recent study found that when young people- just starting college limited use of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to just ten minutes a day, they felt significantly less depressed and lonely.

Social Media allows us to post our highlight reel, not the minute to minute mundane. This unreality can cause kids to feel they’re being left out or missing out on fun. The study above showed kids who had less Social Media time also experienced decreases in FOMO.

Be encouraged that research shows that Social Media is also a great place to connect. A full one third of teens told Pew Research that they felt very connected to their friends through Social Media. Almost a quarter said they have people there that can support them through tough times!

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Parents, this can happen for your child too. Participate with them in their social media when their young. Model positive interactions for them. Congratulate friends, support others online and then show your kids what you're doing and show them how to do the same.

Being aware of concepts like Social Comparison can help make what's happening as they scroll social media more clear.

This is a concept as old as time- but it plays out differently on line, where we don't always see the whole picture of who were comparing ourselves to.

Upward and Downward Social Comparison:

A fifteen minute scroll through social media can introduce your son or daughter to kids who have things your kids didn’t even know they wanted. Kids who have done things they think they will never be able to do, which can cause depression or maybe they'll dream about doing those things someday. Sometimes the Upward Social Comparison can be enlightening and motivating. That’s an example of the dopamine hit we talked about earlier, the “charge” that feels good and motivates us to take action.

The Downward Social Comparisons of kids who don’t have it as good can happen to. They just don’t happen as often on social media unless your child is specifically following accounts that feature people or kids that with food insecurity or housing insecurities. Downward Social Comparison can serve to make kids feel grateful. That’s the good side of comparison.

The crazy thing is that our kids could be comparing themselves to other kids and other people who honestly, might not even be showing a true representation of themselves.

Over 50% more girls than boys said that Social Media made them feel worse about their own lives.

This makes me so very sad. Feeling their life isn't as good as someone else's is a very hard feeling for a parent to witness.

And one more reason parents really need to get involved--the hurt can be staved off to some degree just by letting kids know that what they see on Social Media isn't exactly REAL.

It can be planned, contrived to only show the best. Not to mention the filters and production elements.

Since we know kids can easily fall into Social Comparison- which means comparing themselves to others--and that comparison can cause that less-then feeling, which can lead to self esteem issues, which can then lead to depression- it's best to cut it off at the pass.

Talk to your kids about the reality of "what you see is not necessarily what you would get"-

Also, help them be mindful of what THEY put on Social Media. For the sake of their own personal reputation or Brand. And remind them that like almost everything online, their information, even if they are under 13 or under 18 is NOT private.

Like it or not, we’re all building our “brand” online.

Having a bit of marketing background as I was once the co-owner of one of California’s top advertising agencies, I know a lot about brands. Brands usually refer to companies or products and the brand helps people identify a particular company or product.

But over the years it’s become clear that people have brands. A brand is what helps people shape their perceptions of you.

Be mindful to share with your kids: every post matters.

A brand is built one message at at time.

The US Law mandates that kids under 13 are not allowed to have their own Social Media accounts. Even so, kids- many with their parents blessings, lie about their age so they can have an account. And that's interesting in light of the announcement by the Surgeon General, that he believes 13 is too young.

And remember even if a child’s Instagram or Snapchat- or any online account is deleted, everything said and shared to that point can be saved by Facebook and by others— and if someone else online keeps it or takes a screenshot to post later, a picture they took or words they shared can follow them forever.

Here's one more reason why it's important to guide your child on their Social Media journey. Over half of the teens that use it say they would have a hard time not using it.

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Fortunately, many schools have introduced Digital Citizenship programs which offer education about social media to help inform your kids. But don't abdicate that job to your school to take on by themselves. Your kids need you.

I've created a Family Social Media Success Plan for you and your family to get on the same page when it comes to what you think is the healthiest and safest way for your kids to enjoy Social Media.

It also includes links to my favorite Kids Online educational programs if you want more support or if your school doesn't help with that aspect of education.

I know it's tougher than ever to parent these days. You're doing a great job Mom and Dad and I salute you.

Be Well!


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