Many educational experts believe that middle school is the right time for children to use social media. One position shared is that this aged child will become more familiar with the rules and space before they are more active online and then post more frequently. However, it is suggested that parents guide their children on how to use social media appropriately.
These experts cite many benefits to social media and report that, if monitored, middle schoolers can take advantage of these benefits. Of course, there are negative drawbacks as well. This is, even more, the reason that parents need to stay abreast of their child’s social media activities.
This guide addresses the benefits of social media for middle schoolers, how parents can help their children develop the positive use of social media, establishing the amount of time that is just right for social media, the importance of face-to-face connections (peers and family), and the need to balance technology.
What are the benefits of social media?
If you asked middle schoolers, most of them would say that they use social media to stay in touch with their friends. They don’t see some of them regularly, so this is a great way to do this. Another popular use of social media is for kids to connect to organizations, causes they are interested in, learning opportunities, etc. And another plus is they gain technical skills so necessary in any career field today. Using social media also makes them feel more connected, accepted, and confident.
How can parents help their children develop a positive use of social media?
Parents can be involved in many different ways.
- They can help them to get access to an account.
- Allow them to use their social media accounts so there is oversight of any activity.
- Open an account together.
- Follow your child’s account and review responses, posts, etc. if they are of age to have their own account (the minimum age for most platforms is 13).
- They can talk with their child.
- Engage in conversation about the positive and negative uses of social media.
- Have a 2-way dialogue with your child, rather than just lecturing.
- Talk about the consequences of certain actions to keep communication open; don’t judge and be condescending.
- They can monitor their child’s accounts.
- Monitor your child’s account to ensure there aren’t any negative consequences of social media: aggressive behavior, bullying, and inappropriate offline interactions.
How much is too much for your middle schooler?
Parents need to set reasonable limits on the amount of time their middle schooler is spending using phone apps, socializing on the computer, viewing television, and playing video games. Excessive media use has been known to increase learning and attention problems and lead to obesity, sleep disorders, and other health problems.
Children must make time to have face-to-face connections with their peers, a skill that needs to be cultivated and mastered to be successful in life.
They also need healthy family attachments (even more so than peer relationships) so family time is significant in their development. Mealtimes, game nights, short outings, activities, and extended vacations should be prioritized into your schedule so the family grows as a family.
You can teach your middle schooler about the proper use of devices and when it is appropriate to respond in person, on the phone, or by text. This will encourage them to take time for more in-person peer and family connections.
Tips to help them balance technology
It is helpful to make rules of when they can use certain devices and monitor their screen activities to have a clear understanding of which sites are acceptable and which are off-limits. For example, they are not to have their cell phones on when doing homework. Or they can text or call a friend after each 30-minute segment of doing homework. They are to do their homework at 7 p.m. each night in the den off the kitchen. They are to show you their completed work.
These limits and rules will help your child become a more responsible tech user and not have it negatively affect their schoolwork, academic progress, and overall health. There are many online articles that discuss what appropriate amounts of time are suggested for technology used by certain age groups.
Another suggestion is to have your child sign a digital contract. The contract can summarize the rules and regulations regarding electronic activity use and the consequences for not having appropriate online behavior. Encourage your child’s input so they have buy-in. Using digital tools is a privilege and children need to see it as such. The contract reflects this privilege. There are many great samples of contracts available online.
In addition, you may need to be a better role model for your child. If you want your child to limit or reduce the amount of screen time, you need to demonstrate this behavior as well.
Social media is a large part of social engagement today. As parents, we have a responsibility to help our children understand the impact of technology on the world around them and the integral part it plays in their lives. We can embrace technology and be curious and positive rather than condescending and negative. We can invite our children to share what they know about technology with us. If you are having trouble understanding how Instagram works or you can’t transfer a photo from your phone to your computer or another device, ask them. Encourage them to utilize their tech-savvy skills to connect with extended family members and show them there is a vital place for technology in these connections.
When we help them to navigate social media as middle schoolers, we make it possible for them to connect through positive online interactions and build their confidence. It can enhance their overall learning and skills.
One thing is for certain: technology is here to stay. Help them be successful using it!