Checking in with Safer Schools Together on Social Media Safety

An expert weighs in.

Monitoring a child’s social media experience and trying to keep it safe is one of our biggest challenges as parents. For our annual KIDS issue, VB editor Linda Grasso interviews Nick Chernoff of Safer Schools Together, an organization aimed at promoting safety through the development of policy, protocols and programs.


What’s a healthy amount of time for kids to spend on electronic devices?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, for toddlers younger than 18–24 months, digital media should be avoided other than video chatting. For preschool children (ages 2–5), it suggests limiting screen use to just one hour a day of high-quality programming. For older children, enforce moderation and balance instead of eternal prohibition.


When should kids begin using social media?

Social media apps generally state that you must be at least 13 to join. Check the rules for each platform before letting your child participate. Parents might consider other factors. Ask yourself if your child is mentally ready.


What factors should parents consider before allowing a child to use social media?

Discuss the permanence of the things you post on the internet and inappropriate sharing of images and or videos. Share with them where to go to report worrisome content.

The reality is that their digital reputation and how they choose to represent themselves online is being evaluated and assessed by future employers and admissions departments. Children need to understand that privacy settings don’t always keep things genuinely private. Anything they share online will become a part of their digital footprint forever.


So ideally, it is an ongoing conversation.

Yes, remaining approachable could be the difference between whether they decide to come to you when issues or uncomfortable situations arise, or go to their peers instead.


How can a parent prevent their kid from going to inappropriate websites?

There is no absolute way. Parents can only keep the lines of communication open, monitor what their kids are doing and always be there to answer their questions.

Some measures can be put in place to ensure you minimize your child’s exposure. Especially for younger children, we suggest parental monitoring apps that can help restrict specific apps from downloading. Some of these apps also give you the ability to monitor incoming messages and calls. At home, you can set up content blockers to restrict access on your Wi-Fi.


Are there any child-friendly social media outlets?

No. Nearly all sites only allow children age 13 and over. When you dive into the online world of social media, you’re ultimately exposed to potential non-child-friendly content. The best place to start is by doing your homework. Download the apps first and play around with them. If your child already has the app or game, ask them to teach you about it.


What are the social media outlets that we want our kids to stay away from?

The apps that generate the most negative feedback are those where the sole intention is to remain anonymous while providing strangers or friends feedback on how you feel about them. These include Whisper, After School, Tellonym, Lipsi and ASKfm.


What do you think of Snapchat and TikTok, which seem to be targeted at children?

The most significant danger with these apps is the oversharing of personal information. Children will often put information such as the school they attend and their age in their bios, along with links to their other social media profiles. Even videos taken at home or in bedrooms can give away more information than we realize. What can be seen on the walls can give someone intimate knowledge about a child that can be used to exploit them.

Parents need to be aware of the Snap Map feature in Snapchat that allows you to view on a map where your friends are right now. You can see exactly where they are and what they are doing. It is important for children to only connect online with the people that they know in person.

Again, maintain an open line of communication; know your child’s passwords, and do spot-checks to help them avoid falling into such situations.

“There could be correlations between screen time and self-esteem during preadolescent development.”

How can a parent effectively monitor their child on social media?

There is no foolproof way. We suggest you start the conversation about positive online use as early as you can. We have found that parents who are too strict and ultimately deny their child social media will eventually find their children have used a friend’s device behind their back.

Set ground rules from day one. Talk about the positives and negatives of things they may see online. Discuss the sharing of personal information and how easy it is for people to pretend they are someone else online. Most importantly, let your child know you love and care for them and that they can come to you with anything. Remember, they are using your device, and you can take it away anytime you want.


What have we learned about children and internet usage? What are the long-term effects of kids being plugged in all the time?

Current studies show that the brains of children ages 3–5 years old who have more than an hour of screen time a day had lower levels of development in the brain’s white matter—the area of the brain involved with the development of language, literacy and cognitive skills.

According to studies published by NYU, the amount of time spent in front of a screen during childhood and adolescence can be an alarmingly accurate predictor of obesity later in life. It has also been shown to affect sleep duration and quality, two crucial factors for developing minds.

The study also found that when screen leisure time replaces face-to-face interaction, it inhibits children’s emotional development and that there could be correlations between screen time and self-esteem during preadolescent development. Researchers found that measures of all screen time were negatively correlated with self-esteem in preteens, particularly in female participants.

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