into an unsupervised computer world for school, which opens the door to the online world tenfold. We’ve set up a social construct to perpetuate the dangers of social media.” Dangers like cyberbullying, which can be both subtle and pervasive. Recent stats from StopBullying.gov say that 20 percent of American kids ages 12–18 experience bullying. Of those, 15 percent report being bullied online or via text. Mueller explains that while in-person bullying is more concrete and visible, cyberbullying can take many forms, from mean comments to unfriending to sharing private photos without permission. “The problem is that there’s no system of checks and balances,” she says. “It’s pretty rampant and can happen very easily.” So, too, is predatory behavior— ill-intentioned adults posing as minors on social media sites or as fellow players in popular video games. These predators are sophisticated, learning kids’ vernacular and eliciting information that makes them, in Mueller’s words, “walking prey.” “The issues of cyberbullying and predatory behavior really come down to who’s supervising, and at what age is it appropriate to give kids access,” she says. “In an ideal world, that’s 13 or 14. Kids develop abstract thinking around age 13, and that’s when they can really process what’s happening online.” Today, with parents trying to work from home while their children are in school in the next room, she admits that waiting till 13 isn’t realistic. Instead, it’s up to parents to add social media monitoring to their parenting tool kit. “It’s really about making social media regulation an active part of parenting—ensuring oversight of their child’s online world.” Mueller continues, “I call it ‘media hygiene,’ where a child doesn’t need to be on their phone 24/7 at any age. They can be given access for an amount of time that a parent sees as reasonable, and then they turn the phone in for the night. There is no passcode the parents do not have. And there’s a daily access check and restriction on what apps kids can and cannot have. If parents are not incorporating this, they’re setting their kids up to handle adult problems with a child’s brain.”
HOT TOP I C
Safeguarding Social Media Keep your eyes open to your kids’ online activity
n today’s world, life is often lived online. But constant connectivity comes at a price—especially for kids—and it’s easy to get stuck in a worldwide web of trouble. From cyberbullying to online predators, social media can get murky, and parental guidance is paramount. “Kids’ access to social media has evolved over time,” explains Sandra Mueller, LCSW, senior director of behavioral health at Rady Children’s. In the early days of the internet, she says, “there was a lot of fear among parents, and they wouldn’t let their kids have a phone or computer until they were 12 or 13. But what’s happened is, that age has gotten younger and younger, and we have kids who are developmentally not old enough to handle what they see and hear online.” The pandemic and resulting virtual school setups have exacerbated the issue. “Now we’re asking them to step
Recent statistics say that 20 PERCENT of American kids age 12–18 experience bullying. Of those, 1 5 PERCENT report being bullied online or via text.
14 HEALTHY KIDS MAGAZINE SPRING 2021
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