When discussing safe social media use, help patients to set their own boundaries around time spent online. With young people especially, discuss cyberbullying and online privacy.
As my school-aged patient relayed to me a recent cyberbullying event circulating in her school, which included inappropriate photos, I was distraught. Social media is a key feature of our young patients’ lives, but are their brains developed sufficiently to be ready for the responsibility that comes with the permanency of what they post, send, and share?
The opportunities for communication, self-expression, and knowledge sharing are endless, but so are the potential risks. As a psychologist, and also as a parent, discussions surrounding safe social media behaviors must become a key feature of conversations and lessons we have with children, so that they can face a digital landscape with confidence and security. Key features of these conversations should include:
1. Understand the digital landscape
Before addressing safe social media behaviors, it’s essential for clinicians to comprehend the digital landscape. Social media platforms offer vast networks of connections and information, allowing young patients to interact with peers, share experiences, and express their individuality. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that the digital world can sometimes blur the lines between reality and fantasy. Young patients must recognize the permanence and reach of their digital footprint and understand the potential consequences of their online behavior. And we as clinicians, must also understand what these platforms and apps do.
2. Build digital resilience
Empowering young patients to practice safe social media behaviors begins with building their digital resilience. By fostering a resilient mindset, they can effectively cope with challenges and setbacks they might encounter online. Encourage open conversations about cyberbullying, online privacy, and the importance of maintaining a positive digital reputation.
3. Privacy and personal information
One of the primary concerns when it comes to social media is the protection of personal information. Young patients should understand the significance of safeguarding their privacy online. Encourage them to review and adjust privacy settings on social media platforms, ensuring they have control over who can view their posts, pictures, and personal details. Emphasize the importance of safety over number of likes/views. Caution them about sharing personal information, such as full names, addresses, phone numbers, or school affiliations. Remind them that once shared, information can spread beyond their intended audience, potentially compromising their safety. Ensure they have trusted adults following them on these platforms to monitor content.
4. Critical thinking and digital literacy
To ensure safe social media use, young patients must develop critical thinking skills and digital literacy. Teach them to verify the authenticity and reliability of information before sharing or reposting it. Encourage them to question sources, check for supporting evidence, and be mindful of the potential spread of misinformation.
5. Mindful engagement and time engagement
Social media can be captivating, often leading to excessive screen time and potential negative effects on mental health, and sleep (I’m sure we have all been there!) Guide young patients in cultivating a healthy relationship with social media by promoting mindful engagement and time management. Encourage them to set boundaries and establish screen-free periods to balance their online and offline activities. Foster open discussions about the impact of social media on their well-being and mental health, emphasizing the importance of self-care and face-to-face interactions. And we need to model this behavior as well!
Navigating the vast realm of social media can be challenging for young patients, but with proper guidance about safe social media behaviors, they can harness its benefits while mitigating the risks.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.