Frank Schofield, superintendent, Logan City School District

The use of technology in our professional and private lives is continually increasing. Various devices, including tablets, smartphones, and desktop or laptop computers are used by adults, teenagers, and young children for work, education, and entertainment. The positive opportunities technology provides are significant, but, as many of us know, they also come with challenges. One challenge that has become increasingly visible is the impact of social media (i.e., Facebook, YouTube, Club Penguin, etc.) on children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has identified a number of potential benefits from a child’s use of social media. They include developing communication skills, creating a sense of self, and discovering access to valuable information. These benefits are accompanied by potential risks including cyberbullying, exposure to inappropriate content, and disengagement from face-to-face interactions with friends and family.

So, what can families do to help children learn to use social media effectively in order to effectively manage the potential benefits and challenges? Some strategies identified by researchers include:

Create Ground Rules

If children are old enough to use a computer on their own, they are old enough to understand that there are rules by which they need to abide. Breaking them should not have a lesser consequence than if they broke a rule in the offline world. Parents and children should have open discussions about what the family’s rules mean and how they will be applied.

Keep the Computer in a Central Location

It’s much easier to keep tabs on any online activity when the computer is located in a high-traffic zone than if a child is using a computer in the privacy of his or her bedroom. House the computer in a central location, like the kitchen or family room, so everything is out in the open.

Limit Cell Phone Use

Keeping tabs on social media activity can be more difficult with cell phones. Just as you would limit use of a computer, TV, or gaming system, parents can do the same with cell phones. Set rules for the device, only allowing cell phone usage at certain hours in the evening or after homework has been completed. With teens of driving age, the most important rule to enforce is that no cell phones be used while driving. Phones should be kept off, or in the glove compartment, out of reach, so incoming texts or calls aren’t a distraction.

Be a Good Example of Social Media Usage

If you are tweeting and updating your Facebook page at a stoplight, and taking every opportunity to “just check something,” you’re setting a poor precedent for social media usage that your child will surely follow. Always remember to ask yourself if you’re setting a good example and demonstrating proper technology etiquette as well.

As parents thoughtfully and consistently manage their child’s use of social media, children will be much more likely to see the benefits of appropriate social media use, while avoiding the potential pitfalls.