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Parenting Our Children in the Age of Social Media
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Parenting our Children in the Age of Social Media


Isaac G. Martinez, Ph. D.

Youth aged 8-18 years spend 7.5 hours a day with various forms of media with a majority of time spent multi-tasking with various forms of media (Collier et al, 2016; Pea et al, 2012). Clearly, social media is an important part of teen life and parents have to be engaged their children’s social media activities. This newly formed “connectedness” between youth and their devices has spawned new parenting practices that requires parents to be mindful of their own social media use and how to manage their children’s social media.


Youth thrive in a social networking paradigm due to an inherent drive to connect with others (Crosier, Webster, & Dillon (2012)). They are also developing social networks in a new and different way, which requires psychologists to conceptualize child development within the social media context (Pea et al 2012; Cingel & Krcmar, 2014). Studies have noted the benefits of connecting with others (Reich & Subrahmanyan, 2012), however concerns regarding the Internet are well-founded. (Wurtele & Kenny, 2010; Andreassen et al 2016). The ease of technology use facilitates our youth to communicate with others, take and share pictures, and create music and videos for their friends. Parents need to be a part of this learning process such that they can understand how to support and monitor what is made available to their children.


Parenting in the Internet age is a daunting task. It is the first time in human history that youth are likely to have more information on how to use available technology and parents find themselves “learning” from their children. Other factors impact the stress associated with the addition of a new technological device to the family. For example, youth are under a great deal of social pressure to have cellphones and access to social media. Schools instruct children to have online accounts (e.g. Google) for educational purposes and allow students to bring devices to school for special periods (e.g. device day). Parent technology knowledge requirements have “gone viral” with respect to being able to comprehend technology but also how to manage the social media aspects of their children’s lives.


Some of the more popular social media sites for preteens and teens include Instagram and Snapchat. Instagram provides a platform for youth to post what they are doing and of course the ubiquitous selfie. You can direct message someone on Instagram even if you don’t know them; all you need is the username of their account. Youth often use their own names for usernames so their friends will be able to find them. Although users can block messages from people they don’t know, the curiosity of a middle schooler may result in allowing the message to be delivered. This is one of the inherent dangers associated with Internet use.


Another common problem with this type of platform is that youth can make up a “fake account” using another child’s name or a “theme” about that child in an effort to post messages and pictures for purposes of cyberbullying. It is virtually impossible to find out the name of the person who created the account because of privacy and the false information they may have used to create the account. The legalities of these issues are beyond the scope of this article although it can be said that youth would rather not address the issue in court for fear of further humiliation by peers.


Snapchat allows for kids to send pictures with captions to others and then after a certain time the picture disappears (e.g. 1 to 10 seconds). A child can get a screenshot of the picture but only if they have enough time as pictures can disappear earlier. If a child screenshots the picture then the sender is notified that a screenshot was taken of the picture. In this way, a child may receive a picture that displays inappropriate content.  


Unfortunately, youth are susceptible to being exposed to inappropriate content while using social media platforms. Additionally, children tend to believe that the content they have on their phone and share with others is private. As children grow up in a “technological world” they may misperceive that privacy exists and that content is only shared with their friends. Developmental context needs to be taken into consideration when examining these issues further. However, studies have noted the more perceived privacy or anonymity a child has, the more likely a cyber-perpetrator will engage in cyberbullying (Barlett, Gentile & Chew, 2016).  


Parents differ on when to give their child a phone and how they plan to manage their children’s social media activity. For example, a permissive parent who engages in “oversharing” of their personal lives online may be more likely to allow for their children to have freedom over their social media accounts. Parents should note the permissiveness of parents with whom their children interact. This can help prevent any significant problems that might occur between your child and their peers.


The first step in managing your children’s social media should begin with an evaluation of the social media “modeling” by parents. “Do as I say and not as I do” can be problematic when dealing with social media practices for some parents. The disengaged or neglectful parent is also likely to have the same difficulties in managing social media. Perhaps, they have “stepped in” only after the child has engaged in a social networking behavior that prompted the attention of other parents, peers, school or the authorities.


Applications have been created to help parents track their children’s locations and their activities on the Internet, social media and texting. These services allow for the parent to review the type of information that children are exchanging and downloading on their phones. This type of monitoring is helpful because the data is in real time and parents are able to address any issues that may arise immediately. This appears to have ease of utility but inherently has a time factor attached to monitoring.  The following list is not exhaustive but a search using the keywords “parental controls” found some of the following apps and software. Parental controls have been around for some time and Symantec Norton, Qustodio, Mobicip, OpenDNS, uKnowKids, Content Watch Net Nanny Social and Safe DNS provide services that can help the parent block inappropriate content, manage time on the internet, manage social media and other services intended to help your child stay safe.  Each service has different features and consumers should note which is the best fit for their family.


The question then becomes “How many parents actually have the time and technological savvy to adequately monitor their children’s social media accounts?” Essentially, parents need to invest time in learning about the types of monitoring available and be transparent with their youth about expected codes of conduct with their devices and Internet use.


Here are some suggested practices in managing social media with youth:

  1. Start early education regarding the concept of privacy of data that is used in social media. Children and youth need to know that once their information is out there you cannot take it back. Regularly check the privacy settings on your child’s phone to make sure they are using the appropriate measures.

  2. Bear in mind that most social media platforms require that the child be at least 13 years of age. Note that the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) prevents companies from collecting personal information about children under the age of 13 without the permission of a parent.

  3.  Frame the phone as a privilege that needs to be managed as such. It is not uncommon for middle school children who participate in sports and extracurricular activities to agree to random drug testing. Utilize a random phone check system to make sure that your child is using their phone responsibly. Parents should make it clear at the outset that devices are under the name of the parent and they are responsible for the content and how the phone is used. Parents should become educated about hidden folders, mislabeled folders, vaults and other apps that may assist youth in hiding the content on their phones.

  4. Do the research on the social media your child plans to use. Consider opening an account and learn how to use the different features so you know what to investigate when you are monitoring your child’s social media. Remember that each social media platform has different uses and comes with it’s own set of risks. Not all social networking platforms are the same.

  5.  Phones should be turned in before bedtime and should be turned off completely and put in a pre-arranged space in a common area or parent’s quarters. The negative effects of nocturnal media use are well documented and may result in poor sleep habits, cognitive deficits and difficulties with sustained attention (Bryant & Gomez, 2015). Television, computers and other multitasking media sources need to be monitored and managed as well.

  6.  If a phone has to be taken away because of misuse, take away the phone for a period of time commensurate with the infraction. Be sure to remove other old devices (e.g. iPods) when a phone is taken away to assure that the child is not using an older device to communicate while the new one has been suspended. Youth may argue about safety if they don’t have a phone at school however, odds are that someone nearby will have a phone. Youth may also argue that they need their phone for homework. Verify this and then be sure to discuss with their child how to plan homework using their phones such that is doesn’t go past their bedtime. They are also likely to be able to access this content from a family computer. Children who forget to turn in their phones for the evening should learn quickly that the phone would be taken away if not turned in on time.

  7. Utilize random checks as an opportunity to review content together with your child. Parental mediation has been found to be a consistent positive outcome with regard to negative effects of using different forms of media (Collier et al, 2016).

  8. Consider the use of a social network monitoring service. However, be sure to note the inherent nature of managing from afar versus managing in a face-to face context while discussing the content and social media activities. If you choose to use this type of service, stay abreast of any changes and be sure to have regular meetings with your child regarding their social networking activities.

  9. Finally, examine how social media fits into the life of your child. This is no different then understanding how your child operates in interpersonal situations and their social reality. Child development research is now in the context of a social networking.  

One of the most profound statements about social media came from one of my 17-year-old patients. “I stopped having social media on my phone because there were so many emotions in my phone that I had to deal with; it became too hard to think about it all the time”. “I don’t have the time to deal with all the emotions…I have enough in my real life”.






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Barlett, C. P., Gentile, D. A., & Chew, C. (2016). Predicting cyberbullying from anonymity. Psychology Of Popular Media Culture5(2), 171-180. doi:10.1037/ppm0000055


Bryant, N. B., & Gómez, R. L. (2015). The teen sleep loss epidemic: What can be done?. Translational Issues In Psychological Science1(1), 116-125. doi:10.1037/tps0000020


Cingel, D. P., & Krcmar, M. (2014). Understanding the experience of imaginary audience in a social media environment: Implications for adolescent development. Journal Of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, And Applications26(4), 155-160. doi:10.1027/1864-1105


Collier, K. M., Coyne, S. M., Rasmussen, E. E., Hawkins, A. J., Padilla-Walker, L. M., Erickson, S. E., & Memmott-Elison, M. K. (2016). Does parental mediation of media influence child outcomes? A meta-analysis on media time, aggression, substance use, and sexual behavior. Developmental Psychology52(5), 798-812. doi:10.1037/dev0000108


Crosier, B. S., Webster, G. D., & Dillon, H. M. (2012). Wired to connect: Evolutionary psychology and social networks. Review Of General Psychology16(2), 230-239. doi:10.1037/a0027919





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Yang, S., & Zhou, M. (2012) Media Use, Face-to-Face Communication, Media Multitasking, and Social Well-Being Among 8- to 12 –Year-Old Girls. Psychology of Popular Media Center, Vol.  ,327.


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