How to help your kids navigate social media

Across our region, students are returning to the classroom, and this might be the school year your child asks for their first phone.

Or it may be the semester you’ve decided to set social media boundaries with your teen.

Anticipating these tough and sometimes awkward conversations, we sent our Lauren Donovan to the experts.

As we enter the 2023-2024 school year, odds are a cell phone will be going in your kid’s backpack, and if not, their classmate will likely have one in theirs.

Donovan reached out to two local doctors — a pediatrician and a behavioral specialist — for help.

“We’re knowing that kids are doing 10 to 12 hours a day online engaged in social media,” said Dr. Gregory Jantz.

“Is it a distraction? Is it a way to run away from our issues and our problems?” said Dr. Lelach Rave.

Both doctors have decades under their belts, studying what’s best for children.

They’re both also parents.

“I had kids and screens were an issue,” said Jantz.

Jantz quite literally wrote the book on this: Ten Tips for Parenting the Smartphone Generation.

“You don’t want to shame a kid over use (of a cell phone) or do a lot of complaining, that will just drive it more secret,” said Jantz.

Dr. Lelach Rave is a pediatrician and founder of the Children’s Mental Health Work Group.

“Seeing families from infancy all the way through early adulthood,” said Rave.

It’s Rave’s medical opinion that a young child does not need a computer in their pocket.

“I would encourage people to wait and to go slow,” she said. “There’s a big movement to what’s called ‘wait until 8.’ So, waiting until eighth grade for a child to have a phone, and I think there’s some good science behind that. But even then, when a child first wants a phone, they want it bad. And as a parent, that gives you a lot of negotiating power.”

Rave suggests setting rules like no phones at bedtime. When the lights go out, the devices go away.

She said these guidelines may go over better with reinforcement from others in your community.

“Part of that could also be having a conversation with all of Johnny’s parents, all the peers’ parents, and setting some norms as a group,” said Rave.

“Let’s say, we have mealtime and we put away devices. But we had one exception to that,” said Jantz. “At our home, we called it ‘digital dinner.’ It’s the one time they can bring their devices to the dinner table and I can ask questions. I can have them show me things.”

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