The news recently seems to be plagued with an increasing number of stories about children and teens so negatively affected by social media that they have lashed out against family, peers, and even themselves, often ending in tragedy. Take for example the “Slender Man Stabbings” that took place in Wisconsin, or the growing number of teen suicides due to cyber bullying across the nation. What do they all have in common? The answer is simple: the internet.
We live in a world today that is hardwired by technology and fueled by social media. Many of us have effortlessly adapted to a life integrated with technology, so it is easy to overlook it’s powerful impact on younger generations. Children today grow up surrounded by both the positive and negative effects of the internet and social media.
What can we do to help children find a healthy balance? How do we teach them to stay protected? To use the internet and social media the right way? To stay away from the darker side of the internet?
We will never be in complete control of the vast cyber world that is taking over. But we can take a stand for the safety of children in a way that they understand and respect. We can work with them and become a positive influence rather than a force of control.
We can certainly help by taking a proactive approach and teaching them how to be responsible online. Talk to them about not only the dangers and negative influences of social media and the internet, but also the positive benefits. Have ongoing conversations with them about what is appropriate and what can happen with posts and pictures that they put online or share via texts and social apps. Monitor their progress, and set limitations and guidelines that you come up with together.
By doing so, children will learn how to benefit from the internet and will also learn that they can be in control. By taking control, they will understand the difference between the positive and negative, good and bad, what is real and what is not. This understanding is what will allow them to determine how the online world affects them, instead of letting it rule their lives.