5 Critical Things You Need to Know About Kids on Social Media
Joe Gagliese

It may seem counterintuitive for me, the CEO of a social media company, to be publicly warning people about the dangers of the technology my business is built upon but I’m also a father. Simultaneously, I’m a parent who’s deeply concerned about the threats faced in the digital world, and a business leader who intimately understands the technology. From this combined perspective, here are five key things parents must know if their kids are on social media:

Social Media Isn’t a Safe Space for Young People

Would you let your child enter a dark, grungy building to roam around freely and alone, entering rooms filled with strangers engaged in sketchy, even criminal behaviors including violence, self harm andsexual activity? Of course not. Yet this is equivalent to what parents are doing in the digital world when they allow their children unmonitored access to technologies like social media. A recent analysis of 3 billion digital messages, including on apps and social media, showed that 90% of teens had encountered sexual content, and 10% of tweens and 20% of teens had encountered actual predatory behaviors from someone online. Parents today must recognize that social media exposes their children to things that they would never want them to see in any other setting.

Social Media Favors “Bad” Content

My children love popular made-for-kids YouTube channels. However, these programs often follow a formulaic narrative that actually results in the opposite of teaching good behavior, as they’re intended to do. For example, an episode may start off by having a character engage in “bad” behavior, like snatching a toy from another. The character is then taught the“right” way to act. The problem that I’ve recognized in my own youngest children is that at their age they’re simply not yet intellectually capable of connecting the good solution to the bad one. So, to no fault of their own, they end up adopting the impressionable bad behavior instead, since it’s what they saw first. The bigger picture is that social media algorithms have been shown to favor “problematic” content, because like with the news, it simply garners more attention. In a landscape where bad content rises to the top, and well-intended programming can be ineffective for young minds, parents need to be hyper aware.

“Silent Bullying” Exists

My eldest daughter is 11 and she has experienced the painful phenomenon of silent social media bullying, which is frequent amongst her peers and older groups. This is a form of bullying that is characterized by inaction, such as intentionally not liking or sharing certain people’s posts on social media. Imagine a child posting  carefully created posts to receive little to no response, while another more popular schoolmate receives hundreds of likes in the same timeframe. Kids and teens today experience this type of rejection at exponentially higher rates. Parents can ask their children about negative online experiences consistently and without judgment and report it when it does happen to increase awareness around new forms of bullying.

Limiting Social Media Is Beneficial

Keeping kids off of social media entirely when most of their peers are on it can be particularly difficult for parents for fear of ostracizing them. However, limiting it is a must. For one, reducing its use curbs the rapid and copious amount of content that gets dumped on kids, helping them avoid information overload which can negatively impact their ability to focus and remember important information, like school learnings. Secondly, parents enable more time and opportunity for their children to have real-world human interactions, gaining valuable life skills they can’t attain digitally, like reading social cues and managing conflict. Finally, by curtailing it, parents can help their kids hone self-control. This valuable ability can pay off in later years, like being able to put aside socializing in order to focus on an important test or prepare for a new job.

Understanding Social Media as Much as Kids Do

To offer children the benefits of social media while mitigating the bad, parents above all need to educate themselves. Naturally, most parents today didn’t grow up with the newest and most popular platforms such as TikTok and Snapchat and they can be daunting to navigate. But with adoption amongst younger generations only rising, social media isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Ultimately, the more we know, the more we can not only better protect our kids, but also leverage our understanding to collectively shape a digitally enabled future that is far safer for our children.

Joe Gagliese is Co-CEO & Co-Founder of Viral Nation