September 16 – Our Families: Social Media and Children

Social Media and Kids – Bane or Blessing 

Vital Sign Religious Freedom

Children and teens across the U.S. are spending more time than ever using screens and social media. The number of hours spent online has risen sharply since the pandemic. Although some online time involves academics, experts are concerned about the upswing in social media use, especially among tweens, children 8 to 12.   

Platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook, require users to be at least 13 years old because of a law that prohibits companies from collecting data on children. Yet, in a recent poll, parents shared that 50 percent of children 10 to 12 years old and 33 percent of children 7 to 9 years old use social media apps. 

Child psychologist Kate Eshleman with the Cleveland Clinic, says, “Social media makes it easy to compare oneself to another. Most people put on social media what they want you to see. And by using social media, all of us have the ability to access information anytime we want to and that can be very hard for kids.” 

The Cleveland Clinic says that experts are just beginning to understand social media’s impact on children. One study shows that children younger than 11 years old who use Instagram and Snapchat are more likely to have digital behaviors like having online-only friends and visiting sites parents would disapprove of, as well as a greater chance of taking part in online harassment. 

A report by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, revealed, “There continues to be debate over how soon is too soon when it comes to using social apps and how parents should oversee it.” In a statement, one of the research scientists said, “The findings are further evidence that children under 13 are eager to use social media platforms, for whatever reason—entertainment, celebrity, connecting with friends, or being drawn in by the engagement-providing design common on these sites.” 

Potential threats to children on social media include content that is not age-appropriate, sexual exploitation, scams, and cyberbullying. There are other threats as well. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in 2020, reports of online child predator incidents spiked more than 97 percent. According to the FBI, each offender may sexually extort dozens, sometimes hundreds, of young victims. 

Sharing personal information online opens the door to scammers as well as predators. Children often do not realize the long-term consequences of what they choose to put on their social media accounts. Identity theft is easily done by downloading and sharing publicly someone else’s information, whether they want it out there or not.  

In a poll conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, 77 percent of parents reported that their teens paid more attention to their devices than to family. When asked if parents thought their teen was addicted to their device, 59 percent of parents said yes, and even half of the teens surveyed said they felt addicted to their mobile devices.  

As of January 2022, social media addiction (whether for adults or children) is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V) or the International Classification of Diseases, 11th edition, so parents and clinicians should be cautious about using the addiction language. 

In July 2022, the Kids Online Safety Act was introduced into Congress. It has been assigned to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. 

Social media is not going away, so protecting a child from adverse effects is essential. For all of the fun and relationship-building, as well as academic usefulness, there remains a downside. In the diligence of parents to monitor a child’s activities, it is wise to encourage him or her to have close in-person friends or be part of a social group. It is also important to watch if the child is struggling with self-concepts, created by comparing him- or herself with others on social media. And in ways that are appropriate to the child’s level of understanding, parents should educate them on the threats and superficialities of social media. Finally, a level of trust between parent and child is critical, so that the child is able to share with a parent things that are troublesome. 

The Bible encourages parents to develop strong relationships with their children. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 says, “All these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” 

How then should we pray? 

  • For parents and guardians to be vigilant regarding the activities of their children on social media. 
  • For the safety of children as more and more are exposed to damaging concepts or people. 
  • For members of Congress as they consider ways to safeguard America’s youth from dangers of various kinds on the internet.
  • For the managers of social media platforms to take greater responsibility to keep children safe online. 
  • For parents who believe in the Lord Jesus to spend time teaching God’s Word to their children. 

See previous Pray 7 daily featured readings.

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