Navigating the new age of technology can be a daunting task, yet the increase of social media usage among young children means it is imperative for parents to monitor their child’s social media viewing and interactions. Children at younger and younger ages learn how to manipulate phones, laptops and TVs, but the content they are exposed to is not always user appropriate.
While the use of social media may strike fear in the hearts of some parents, it can be very beneficial in allowing children to connect with family, peers and others who share similar interests. Social media and internet usage also provide opportunities for educational advancement. With a few key resources under your belt, the digital age can be more easily navigated.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) was recently awarded government funding to establish a National Center of Excellence on Social Media and Mental Wellness, which the AAP has named Center of Excellence: Creating a Healthy Digital Ecosystem for Children and Youth.”1 It is the hope that with this program, evidence-based tools are made available to parents, educators, physicians and others to help children navigate the digital world and ensure mental well-being.
The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens, 2021, revealed that as a result of the COVID pandemic, media use has grown significantly.2 From online education to children’s entertainment during quarantines, media usage has affected all households. Other key points from this study show that boys use media more than girls and that children from low-income families have higher screen time rates than those from high-income households, despite having fewer electronic devices.2 With the increase in media usage, parents need to be aware of what their children are viewing.
Parental Control Apps
There are multiple different parental control apps that are available for monitoring internet usage in the family. The app Qustodio allows parents to filter content by blocking potentially harmful sites and will notify you if access is attempted. It also allows parents to monitor messaging activity, track calls, view browsing history, and view the location of family members. Another great feature is that the app allows multi-parent access and the ability to monitor across multiple platforms (ie, phone, computer). User fees run anywhere from $60 to $132 per year and cover up to 15 devices.
Net Nanny, Bark and Norton Family are also excellent parental control apps. Similar to Qustodio, they all cover multiple devices and offer content blocking, location services, screen time limits and social media monitoring. Pricing is also fairly similar, ranging from $39 to $99 per year.
For those looking for budget-friendly parental control options, Google Family Link is a free platform. Similar to Qustodio, parents can monitor screen time, block sites and monitor family locations. However there is no web app for this program, and it does not work on all devices. Once your child turns 13 years old, they also have the ability to turn off the tracking functions. This app is a good, free alternative if your device is compatible but should be used primarily for young children.
Determining Screen Time Usage
In addition to monitoring the content children are absorbing from the media, it is also important to set limits on screen time usage. The following are the screen time recommendations from the AAP3,7. These should be used as guidelines for screen time usage that is not related to schoolwork.
- Children younger than 18 months: avoid media use other than video chatting with family members with parental supervision.
- 18-24 months: less than 1 hour per day of media usage with a parent or caregiver
- 2-5 years: up to 1 hour a day of high-quality, educational programming
- 6-10 years: up to 1.5 hours per day
- 11 years old and older: up to 2 hours per day
It is important to set goals for yourself and your child such as no distractions while working, limit screen time and no screen usage at least an hour prior to bed.9 The Family Media Use Plan can be found at www.healthychildren.org/MediaUsePlan.4,9 This allows for parents and children to create a unique plan for their family that sets boundaries and creates the opportunity for communication about media within the family.
Another concern that many parents have in the early adolescent period is cell phone readiness. The age at which a child should get a phone varies and is dependent upon their level of maturity and social circumstances. The American Academy of Pediatrics and AT&T have created an online PhoneReady Questionnaire (screenready.att.com/digital-parenting) to assess if a child is ready for a phone.5 This tool is recommended to take the guesswork out of phone readiness.
Kids’ First Apps
The following are common apps that are recommended for children and teens by Common Sense Media. Common Sense Media is an easy-to-use site that allows parents to preview and find age-appropriate programs for children, including movies, TV shows, books, apps or other media programs.
Starfall ABCs provides an excellent introduction to reading for children. It works with kids on learning letters, vowels and putting them together to create words. This is an excellent App for kids ages 2-5 years old. It has a free version and a paid membership version that allows for expanded content in math, reading and music.
Elmo Loves ABCs is for children ages 3 and up and works on learning the alphabet through tracing activities, videos and songs. For older children interested in space exploration, NASA has an app to help fuel their curiosity and provide real-time information.
Duolingo is a free application that allows anyone to learn a new language. It has been shown that children who learn more than one language at a time develop language skills at the same rate as those who are only exposed to one language.7 That being said, since there is no confusion with young, developing minds acquiring more than one language, it is optimal to start this introduction of new languages at younger ages. Duolingo has multiple languages to choose from and allows a wonderful introduction to foreign language skills that will last a lifetime.
Khan Academy is another free platform that supplements classroom learning. It contains a plethora of free resources on topics such as math and science. It also offers test preparation for college and graduate school entrance examinations. It is a great tool for learners of all ages.
When used responsibly, social media apps allow teens to connect with friends, family members, and other people who share similar interests.9 It also allows them to unleash their creative side by making videos and music. Some teens are also creative enough to start their own blogs on topics ranging from cooking to travel to science experiments.
There is also the opportunity for your child to become an influencer, teaching people how to do things and share their lives. This is great when the influencers promote behaviors related to positive self-esteem and resilience. It becomes an issue when there are risky behaviors involved. Parents are encouraged to watch influencer videos with their child and discuss what they are viewing in order to screen for any potential negative exposures.
One concern with media usage is that fitness and sleep are often neglected.8,9 There are, however, multiple apps that encourage people to be fit and take care of their bodies. The usage of such apps should be encouraged, especially if your child tends to lead a more sedentary lifestyle.
There are many free workout apps such as Nike Training Club and Pumatrac. They offer coach-led workouts to help keep your body fit. For teens who have their own smartwatches, they typically come with installed fitness apps as well. There are also meditation and relaxation apps such as Daily Calm and Headspace. Usage of these apps teaches children the importance of calming their body and mind.
There are multiple social and messaging apps. At times it can seem hard to keep up with the new platforms that are created, but here are a few that are popular at the current time. Discord is a messaging platform where teens can communicate via video calls, voice, text or by sharing media files. This is a popular app with gamers because it allows users to talk with other users while playing games.
weBelong is a newer social media app that started in 2021. It’s similar to other apps with what can be done, but the unique feature is it does not show the number of likes and number of friends. It is a great way for young minds to get introduced to the social app world without the stress of wondering if their comments are popular or liked enough by other people. It allows them to build their self-confidence in a non-judgmental way.
Instagram allows the editing of videos and images that can then be used for posts and stories. Users can send private messages and anyone can be approached on this platform. With this feature, an aspiring musician, for example, can reach out to another musician to ask for guidance on which way they should go to obtain the career goals that they desire.
Facebook is one of the top social media apps, although it is not as popular with teens. It has numerous features and even allows live streaming sessions to communicate with those on your friend list. TikTok has billions of users and is a popular entertainment platform for teens. In this app, teens can create video content and share with others. Marketers have started approaching ‘TikTokers’ to help sell their products. This can provide a great opportunity for people to enter the entrepreneurial world. Rounding out the list there is Snapchat, YouTube and Whats app. These are still heavily used sites by teens.
No matter what apps or social media kids use, parents are encouraged to set up the accounts for their child, monitor usage on a regular basis and set up daily time limits. Encourage usage of not only social sites but fitness sites as well.
Believe it or not, games are still played and very popular. Some of the more popular ones with kids include Cooking Fever, Heads Up! And Finger Fights. In Cooking Fever, the user is responsible for cooking food, serving and managing money. It is easy to use and well-liked by users. Heads Up! Is the electronic version of charades. A fun game to play in groups, it helps with thinking and communication skills. Finger Fights has multiple games that can be played solo or with friends. From Finger Soccer to Math Reactor, this app has lots of fun and educational games.
Keeping up with what happens in the world sometimes supersedes meaningful in-person relationships. Parents have to be role models for their children, making quality family time a priority. It is important to have screen-free zones, such as the kitchen, dinner table, car or while eating out at restaurants.8,9 This screen-free time gives you the opportunity as a parent to connect with your child, learn what is going on in their world and gives them a safe space to express ideas. This also provides an opportunity for you to coach your child through various issues.
In summary, social media gives children an online footprint. It allows communication with others and the opportunity to build social networks. It allows exposure to new ideas, current event knowledge, civic engagement, collaboration on projects and peer connections.
It does have its downsides such as risks for obesity, sleep disturbance, inappropriate content, excessive advertisement, cyberbullying and privacy concerns.8,9
Unfortunately, there is not one size fits all with respect to media usage, but there are many options that can foster healthy electronic usage in families while continuing to provide a strong family unit. Our job as physicians and as parents is to foster the growth of our children in a safe environment, teach how to use media sources responsibly and above all else be a role model of responsible usage of media.
- Poslosky, J. (2022). AAP to launch New Center of Excellence on Social Media and Youth Mental Health. Home. Retrieved from https://www.aap.org/en/news-room/news-releases/aap/2022/aap-to-launch-new-center-of-excellence-on-social-media-and-youth-mental-health/
- The Common Sense Census: Media use by tweens and teens, 2021. Common Sense Media. (2022). Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/research/the-common-sense-census-media-use-by-tweens-and-teens-2021
- Ben-Joseph, E. P. (Ed.). (2022, August). Media use guidelines for babies and toddlers (for parents) – nemours kidshealth. KidsHealth. Retrieved from https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/screentime-baby-todd.html
- Family media plan. HealthyChildren.org. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/fmp/Pages/MediaPlan.aspx?_ga=2.104570947.2147363244.1672062581-24932474.1672062581&_gl=1%2Aof9306%2A_ga%2AMjQ5MzI0NzQuMTY3MjA2MjU4MQ..%2A_ga_FD9D3XZVQQ%2AMTY3MjA2MjU4MC4xLjEuMTY3MjA2MjY0MS4wLjAuMA..
- McPherson, T. (2022, July 20). The American Academy of Pediatrics and AT&T launch free tools to help families determine child’s cell phone readiness and create healthy media use habits. Home. Retrieved from https://www.aap.org/en/news-room/news-releases/aap/2022/the-american-academy-of-pediatrics-and-att-launch-free-tools/
- Age-based media reviews for families. Common Sense Media. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/
- 7 myths and facts about bilingual children learning language. HealthyChildren.org. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/gradeschool/school/Pages/7-Myths-Facts-Bilingual-Children-Learning-Language.aspx
- Radesky, J., & Christakis, D. (2016). Media and Young Minds. Publications.aap.org. Retrieved from https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/138/5/e20162591/60503/Media-and-Young-Minds?_ga=2.50374634.2147363244.1672062581-24932474.1672062581%3Fautologincheck
- Moreno, M., Chassiakos, Y. R., & Cross, C. (2016). Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents. Publications.aap.org. Retrieved December 26, 2022, from https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/132/5/958/31699/Children-Adolescents-and-the-Media?_ga=2.214606932.2147363244.1672062581-24932474.1672062581
Dr. Menchan is a board-certified pediatrician and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics with over 20 years of professional and clinical teaching experience. Dr. Menchan earned her undergraduate degree at Tufts University and her medical degree at Rutgers Medical School. Her internship and residency were completed at Cohen Children’s Medical Center, located in New York, where she also served as chief resident for a year. She is currently an associate professor at Morehouse School of Medicine and serves as chair for the Pediatric Healthcare Improvement Coalition of Georgia.