In the last 15 or so years, our worlds have been turned upside down by technology. Virtually overnight, we all have devices in our hands at all times. We can obsessively search the Web, count the “likes” on our social media posts, and comment on strangers’ posts.

Many parents are confused about how best to manage their children’s use of the internet, particularly around social media. For all the positives around social media’s increased connectivity, it can be a scary place for young people. Many online sites and mobile applications foster cyber-bullying, age-inappropriate information, and misinformation. Parents, teachers, and anyone else who interacts with children and teens know the dangers that are out there but also can run into roadblocks trying to understand and prevent damaging access while also allowing the child or children in question to utilize the internet’s many positives.

What to do?

Know the risks

Cyber-bullying is a top concern. Teenagers can be tempted to say things under cover of social media that they would likely never share in person. It is, unfortunately, all too common, for cruelty and bullying to take over on pages and message boards. It can be hurtful to anyone, and for sensitive teenagers, the results can be devastating.

Social media can also be a haven for predatory behavior by adults seeking to interact with adolescents for the worst possible reasons. While this behavior is illegal and punishable by law, it is challenging to stop intrusions and access.

As teenagers explore the online world, they may not be equipped to handle their actions on social media responsibly. They may make mean or impulsive posts, become consumed with answering trolls, or misuse their time and attention span on content that distracts from learning and development.

Adolescents must know these risks if they’re going to participate in social media. Preparing a teenager for online life is similar to the responsibility of driving. Parents should help their teenagers understand that with freedom and independence, there also is a great responsibility. Teach teens that safety in the form of sound judgment and a common respect for themselves and others has to come first.

Setting reasonable limits

Time limits on online access vary according to household and individual adolescents. For some, the limit may be virtually no social media interaction. For others, it may be an hour a week or an hour a day, or where having a social media profile isn’t allowed until a certain age. As parents, you are in charge of setting the rules. Just know that if access is severely limited, a teen may see that as a challenge and find another way to gain entry to the online world. For many families, open dialogue about internet use and its potential perils can help establish healthy habits.

Whatever your child’s online access looks like be sure to put safeguards in place. While social media plays a significant role in our lives today, it should make up only part of a child’s development. For teens, all the other experiences in life shouldn’t be compromised because of too much time in the social media landscape.