Digital wellness / July 29, 2020

The summer of screens – and social media?

Nimmi Kanji

Nimmi Kanji

Director - Social Purpose Programs, For Good and TELUS Wise


With in-person play dates and programs cancelled, kids are spending even more time online socializing, entertaining themselves and creating a new sense of community. According to a recent survey by ParticipACTION, a non-profit organization that promotes healthy living, kids’ screen time has increased significantly during COVID-19. Kids aged five to 11 years are averaging approximately five hours of screen time per day, while teens aged 12 to 17 are averaging more than six hours.

With more screen time, are there any apparent changes in attitudes or online behaviours? According to Global News, COVID-19 has had many parents considering social media for their kids at earlier ages than previously planned.

Apps like Facebook’s recently launched Messenger Kids shows just how prevalent digital communication is for the COVID generation, even for young kids. Designed for kids under the age of 13 (you have to be 13 to have a regular Facebook/Messenger account), Messenger Kids provides free video calling and messaging on smartphones and tablets. Parents have a dashboard to curate contacts, monitor traffic and set time limits, while kids can communicate using filters and stickers.

If you’re considering allowing your kids to take the leap into social media at a younger age than you originally envisioned, what precautions do you need to take?

Global News interviewed Dr. Michael Rich, Director of the Center for Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital (Dr. Rich was also an advisor for Facebook in the development of Messenger Kids) about young kids and social media. His view? Many kids are finding ways to use social networking apps like Tik Tok, Snapchat and messaging, regardless of age restrictions and parental permission. With everyone together at home, parents have an opportunity to help kids, “apprentice in this new skill.” He believes that parents can help to guide and mentor kids on using social media and messaging apps in responsible, safe and kind ways.

4 tips for parents

Participating with your kids in their early social media experiences can help to build a strong foundation for their teen and adult use of social media. Here are some things to consider:

#1: Explore the apps together

Regardless of which apps your kids want to use, it is important to walk through them together. They may be more tech savvy than you in some ways (hello, Tik Tok), but you have the maturity, experience and developed decision making necessary for responsible social media use. The apps’ terms, conditions and privacy settings must be a vital part of your exploration. Explain what it all means and help kids understand the tradeoff between giving up access to information and access to an app. Once your kids are familiar with the privacy terms and conditions of each app, you can set privacy parameters together.

#2: Develop critical thinking

We as adults know that social media is not reality. It’s crafted, posed and often portrays ways of living and interacting that aren’t reflective of real life. However, many kids aspire to living the “social dream” of an influencer. According to research cited in a welivesecurity (by ESET) article, a recent survey of 2,000 parents of 11 – 16 year olds in the UK uncovered that kids’ dream jobs include social media influencer (17%) and YouTuber (14%). Following influencers and celebrities on social media is exciting, but it is important that kids know their content is carefully curated and not necessarily an accurate portrayal of real life. Followers are not necessarily friends, and comments can be unforgiving. If you remain consistently curious about your kids’ “social” lives, you will find opportunities to help them develop a healthy curiosity about what they are seeing and consuming.

#3: Model good habits

Modeling good habits, sharing how you set limits and showing how you craft your “social” persona offer kids real-world examples of being both intentional and vigilant on social media. Do you only post certain details in order to protect your privacy? Do you ask for people’s consent before posting pictures of them? Are you intimate with how each platform works, their privacy policies and any pitfalls that could possibly arise? Having a good example to follow can help kids understand what they should be considering when crafting their own social media personas.

#4: Sign a social media contract

Accountability is a really important part of social media responsibility and a cornerstone of good digital citizenship. Working together, you and your kids can agree on rules, limitations and acceptable behaviours in terms of online reputation, posting positive content and identifying and calling out cyberbullying. You can outline these parameters in a contract you create together or you can leverage the TELUS Wise smartphone and technology contract. Once you both sign, the agreement is “binding” for what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of social media use in your household.

Only you can determine if your child is ready for the world of social media. Now, with more time spent online and less physical interactions possible, social media does provide communication and connection. With some education, clear intention and attentiveness from you, social media can be a positive influence in your child’s life. And you can teach important digital values that kids will carry with them as they become more independent digital citizens.

Want to learn more about popular social media apps that youth may be interested in or are already using? The TELUS Wise guide to popular social media and messaging apps provides insight and offers important online safety and privacy tips specific to each app.

Screen time
Kids & tech
Safe digital habits
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