Remember when summer was simple? Before smartphones and social networks, there was less uploading and more unwinding; less commenting and more savoring.
There’s a new summer now. It’s the social summer, and tweens and teens know it well. It’s those few months away from school where the pressure (and compulsion) to show up and show off online can double. On Instagram and Snapchat, it’s a 24/7 stream of bikinis, vacations, friend groups, and summer abs. On gaming platforms, there’s more connecting and competing.
With more of summer playing out on social, there’s also more risk. And that’s where parents come in.
While it’s unlikely you can get kids to ditch their devices for weeks or even days at a time this summer, it is possible to coach kids through the risks to restore some of the simplicity and safety to summer.
5 summer risks to coach kids through:
- Body image. Every day your child — male or female — faces a non-stop, digital tidal wave of pressure to be ‘as- beautiful’ or ‘as-perfect’ as their peers online. Summer can magnify body image issues for kids.
What you can do: Talk with your kids about social media’s power to subtly distort body image. Help kids decipher the visual world around them — what’s real, what’s imagined, and what’s relevant. Keep an eye on your child’s moods, eating habits, and digital behaviors. Are comments or captions focused only on looks? If so, help your child expand his or her focus. Get serious about screen limits if you suspect too much scrolling is negatively impacting your child’s physical or emotional health.
- Gaming addiction. The risks connected with gaming can multiply in the summer months. Many gaming platforms serve as social networks that allow kids to talk, play, and connect with friends all day, every day, without ever leaving their rooms. With more summer gaming comes to the risk for addiction as well as gaming scams, inappropriate content, and bullying.
What you can do: Don’t ignore the signs of excessive gaming, which include preoccupation with gaming, anger, irritation, lying to cover playing time, withdrawal and isolation, exchanging sleep for gaming. Be swift and take action. Set gaming ground rules specific to summer. Consider parental control software to help with time limits. Remember: Kids love to circumvent time limits at home by going to a friend’s house to play video games. Also, plan summer activities out of the house and away from devices.
- Cyberbullying. Making fun of others, threatening, name-calling, exclusion, and racial or gender discrimination are all serious issues online. With more time on their hands in the summer months, some kids can find new ways to torment others.
What you can do: Listen in on (monitor) your child’s social media accounts (without commenting or liking). What is the tone of your child’s comments or the comments of others? Pay attention to your child’s moods, behaviors, and online friend groups. Note: Your child could be the target of cyberbullying or the cyberbully, so keep your digital eyes open and objective.
- Smartphone anxiety. Anxiety is a growing issue for teens that can compound in the summer months if left unchecked. A 2018 survey from the Pew Research Center reveals that 56 percent of teens feel anxious, lonely, or upset when they don’t have their cell phones.
What you can do: Pay attention to your child’s physical and emotional health. Signs of anxiety include extreme apprehension or worry, self-doubt, sleeplessness, stomach or headache complaints, isolation, panic attacks, and excessive fear. Establish screen limits and plan phone-free outings with your child. Set aside daily one-on-one time with your child to re-connect and seek out professional help if needed.
- Social Conflict. More hours in the day + more social media = potential for more conflict. Digital conflict in group chats or social networks can quickly get out of hand. Being excluded, misunderstood, or criticized hurts, even more, when it plays out on a public, digital stage.
What you can do: While conflict is a normal part of life and healthy friendships, it can spiral in the online space where fingers are quick to fire off responses. Offer your child your ears before your advice. Just listen. Hear them out and (if asked) help them brainstorm ways to work through the conflict. Offer options like responding well, not engaging, and handling a situation face-to-face. Avoid the temptation to jump in and referee or solve.
Summer doesn’t have to be stressful for kids, and the smartphone doesn’t have to win the majority of your child’s attention. With listening, monitoring, and timely coaching, parents can help kids avoid common digital risks and enjoy the ease and fun of summer.