The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Navigating Media Online
If you’re the parent of a tween, ages 8-12, you have likely seen a change in digital habits. Often times, there is a shift from gaming on devices to texting, instant messaging, and sharing on social media. This trend continues as your tween grows to a teenager when their social life is increasingly digital.
This PBS Parents quote sums it up wonderfully: “We may think of our kids’ online, mobile, and technological activities as ‘digital life,’ but to them, it’s just life.” As a fact of life, kids will see things that we do not want them to see while they’re online. Rather than worry about what they might see, having conversations about what could happen online can help your child navigate the media they see in a positive way.
We want our children to thrive in the digital world, and in order to do that, they need to understand how the digital world works, including the types of media they can be exposed to. Unrestricted access to information may mean that your child is exposed to age-inappropriate content or to resources that help them learn and grow. The question is, how will your child navigate the vastly different types of media?
The best thing you can do to help your child navigate what they see online is to keep an open dialogue about what they’re seeing. Although it may be difficult, keeping your fear and judgment of the media they see out of the conversation will encourage your child to be more willing to share what they have concerns about.
Thanks to the vast amount of information and content available online there are many ways for your child to build confidence in themselves. For example, the body positive attitude seen from brands like Dove and stores not using Photoshop to touch-up models in advertisements can help your child feel better in her skin. Social media can strengthen friendships and create new ones, even over long distances. Your child also has access to a variety of educational resources on their devices, such as encyclopedias or articles, that we once needed to check out from the library!
On the other end of the spectrum, there is media that can make your child feel not so good about themselves. Your child will likely come across body negative language and inappropriate comments, since a lot of children (and adults) post without thinking of the consequences of how a comment will make another person feel. Without the immediate consequences of hurting someone’s feelings, cyber bullying, inappropriate comments, and body shaming can run rampant in online spaces. Having a conversation about how to handle these situations when they occur can help your child act confidently when dealing with digital confrontation each time. Try framing it as if the comment was said to their face. Would they let the comment go or confront the person who made the comment?
You may notice that your child is on their device frequently. And, although it may be easy to generalize and say that your child is addicted to their device because they are on it all the time, chances are, they aren’t. Device addiction symptoms include withdrawal from socializing, mood swings, and loss of interest in anything other than their device. If you’re looking to cut the amount of time your child spends in front of their devices, get strategies for managing screen time here. Lastly, on the extreme end of the spectrum, there are ugly behaviors associated with the age-inappropriate or explicit media, such as pornography, your child can be exposed to online. If you are concerned that your child is viewing inappropriate content, and you’ve already had a number of conversations about it, but continue to be concerned, we recommend speaking to a local school counselor for personal advice. However, please note that just because your child has viewed explicit imagery, it does not equate to addiction.