Navigating Social Media With Children: A Unified Approach for Schools & Parents

Navigating Social Media With Children: A Unified Approach for Schools & Parents

In today’s digital age, children are exposed to a complex social media landscape, presenting both opportunities and challenges. A unified approach to addressing the issues of social media for children is essential in growing them to be emotionally healthy and self confident.  The comprehensive steps involved in navigating social media with children includes fostering open communication, teaching critical, independent thinking skills, encompassing parental oversight, and addressing childhood anxiety and depression that may result as a result of platform exposure and usage. We must also look at the crucial element of the sense of belonging that social media brings to children. This article explores how schools and parents can partner to address the concerns of social media.

Fostering Open Communication and Critical Thinking

Digital literacy programs should be embedded into curriculum, ensuring students learn responsible online navigation. School offers students equitable opportunities and access to learn and examine the digital world. Lessons should include the exploration of Netiquette, the correct or acceptable way of communicating on the internet. Faculty and staff benefit from professional development centered on books likened to Stratosphere, by Michael Fullan. Michael Fullan’s work takes a look at the world of emerging technologies and argues that the influence of technology on teaching and learning must not be resisted, but rather embraced and applied in meaningful ways to positively impact school classrooms. As educational leaders, we must establish open forums to encourage students to express concerns and share experiences related to social media. Student voice and agency are the keys to planning for our next steps in any area of education.

We can support parents by helping them to initiate regular conversations with children about their online experiences, creating a non-judgmental space for sharing thoughts and concerns. They should stay informed about the platforms and apps children use, allowing for more meaningful discussions about potential risks and benefits. Open communication sends a message of support without criticism and allows for other conversations that may be uncomfortable or difficult to bring to the table.

Addressing Childhood Depression and Anxiety

There is significant evidence linking social media to childhood depression and anxiety. Studies prove that teenage users who spend the most time on Instagram, Facebook and other platforms have a substantially higher rate of reported depression than those who spent the least time on these platforms.

School district workshops for parents can provide guidance on monitoring their children’s online activities. Fostering a collaborative relationship between educators and parents will address concerns and alleviate anxieties. As educators, we need to continue to work with our mental health teams to better understand the signs of anxiety and depression in children. Once we are able to recognize these behaviors, we can begin to dive into the root causes and offer tools for success.

It is also important for schools to integrate mental health education into the curriculum, offering resources for educators, students and families. Identifying that children must feel safe, happy and a sense of belonging before they can learn any academics is essential to student success. Practicing self regulation strategies and teaching ways to destigmatize mental health issues is time well invested into the school day. Counseling services to support students facing challenges related to social media and mental health should be easily accessible to all students, not only those who receive mandated counseling services. This is obviously a budgetary issue. Next steps are to work with our local, state and federal politicians to advocate for funding to support the addition and expansion of mental health staff members in our schools.

Parents often ask what they can do to control their child’s social media exposure. I recommend they implement age-appropriate restrictions and monitoring tools, finding a fair balance between privacy and protection. It’s important for parents to stay educated on digital trends and challenges to better understand and address potential online risks. Vetting platforms and social media outlets before granting permissions to children is an excellent way to understand exactly how media works and assists in helping children to understand the risks, and benefits.

Once  social media becomes an integral part of a child’s day, parents should be vigilant about changes in behavior, as this may indicate underlying emotional struggles. Working with children to develop a daily check in is a good way to ensure that parents are staying connected to their child’s emotional wellbeing.

Social Media and a Sense of Belonging

There has been much discussion about how social media provides children with a sense of belonging, and on the flip side, how it can make children feel left out and disconnected from peers. In schools, we can address these issues by promoting positive online spaces within the school community, emphasizing inclusivity and kindness.

With parents as our partners, we can guide children in choosing online communities aligned with their interests and values. It is also important to encourage offline activities and social interactions to complement online connections, fostering a well-rounded sense of belonging and allowing children to practice the essential social skills of communication, cooperation and collaboration.

A unified effort between schools and parents is optimal for effectively navigating the complexities of social media for children. By fostering open communication, providing oversight, addressing mental health concerns, and promoting positive online experiences, we can empower the younger generation to navigate the digital landscape with responsibility, reflection and success.

Dr. Lori Koerner

Dr. Lori Koerner has been in the field of education for over three decades. She spent the first 26 years of her career as an elementary school teacher, having taught every grade. She is a Fulbright Specialist Scholar, and served as an adjunct professor for special education at several universities in New York.

Dr. Koerner is currently an Assistant Superintendent in a public school district on Long Island in New York. Her research has been centered on educating the whole child; that is, developing students’ social competencies, emotional well-being, and physical fitness through recess and play so that they are best equipped to meet their maximum academic potential.

Dr. Koerner is a mom of four, and a bold child advocate. She has written numerous articles for national magazines regarding paradigm shifts necessary for 21st century learning. Dr. Koerner has presented across the country regarding innovation in education.

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