Loyola Family Psychologist Offers Tips
MAYWOOD, Ill. – School is out for summer, and many adolescents will be spending even more hours in front of a computer or smartphone screen. Although texting and social media are great for keeping in touch, they can have a serious psychological and emotional impact on children.
“Communication is so important in a family. You need to talk to your kids about social media, educate them about risk factors and let them know your expectations,” said Michael Hakimi, PsyD, a family psychologist at Loyola University Health System and an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
With less supervision and more unrestricted time, it’s important to have well-defined rules for children on when and how to use social media. Hakimi suggested first having a talk with your kids to establish rules together and make sure they understand all rules, risks and consequences. Here are five rules he suggests:
- Only communicate with people you know.
“There is a lot going on through the Internet and predators know that’s a place they can prey on children. Parents’ first responsibility is to ensure a child’s safety, so make sure your children understand this rule is to protect them,” Hakimi said.
- Limit time spent in front of a screen or smartphone, including social media, video games and texting.
“Spending too much time doing one thing, including in front of a screen, really limits us and takes away so many experiences. Consider limiting screen time to an hour a day during the week and two to three hours on weekends,” Hakimi said.
- Stay connected and check in.
“It shouldn’t be a problem to be your child’s friend on Facebook or follow on Twitter. If you can’t see it, it shouldn’t be up there,” Hakimi said. “Also, if your child has a problem with you walking by and looking at the screen, they probably shouldn’t be looking at it either."
- Make sure there is no identifying information listed on social media sites, such as address, phone number or name of school.
- Keep an open communication policy.
“Make sure your children know they can always come to you if something doesn’t feel right or something is bothering them and you can deal with it together,” Hakimi said.
Bullying and predatory behavior are a dangerous reality for our kids as they go online. It’s not just “stranger danger” any more. There can be a dark side to “friends” on Facebook and a possible predator lurking in the shadows of chatrooms.
Hakimi gives some warning signs that alert parents to possible problems on or offline:
- Sudden and unexpected change in mood or behavior
- Changes in sleeping or eating habits
- Unusual aggression, short temper or bullying siblings
- Shutdown of communication with parents and friends not online
- Strangers appearing at the door asking for your child
- Loss of interest in other activities, hobbies or sports
“It’s so important for parents, especially parents of teenagers, to keep that dialogue open. Work together to set boundaries and help them understand these rules are for their safety and protection. Stay involved in your kids’ lives, get to know their friends and friends’ parents. Have food on hand and let your house be a safe, fun place for teens to know they are secure. That way you’ll know your teen is safe, too,” Hakimi said.
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