Karen Garloch

Children and social media: An unhealthy trend?

Social media has changed our lives. Kids seem to be born with thumbs ready to swipe screens on a mobile device. But is that good?

On Sept. 19, experts will address the healthy – and sometimes unhealthy – aspects of social media for children at a daylong Charlotte conference called “Connected, Disconnected or in Danger: Helping Kids Navigate the Awesome and Awful of Social Media.” Speakers will address the psychological effects of social media and the potential for online predators and cyberbullying.

“Social media is here to stay,” said Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea, director of Presbyterian Psychological Services Counseling Center, one of the sponsors.

But she said a child who spends hours a day on Facebook or Twitter may neglect to eat, sleep or exercise, and if bullied online, could become depressed or vengeful. Parents may feel helpless because they don’t understand the technology or may not see a problem because they’re also spending too much time on computers themselves.

“Our kids are outpacing us in knowing what’s out there and how to use it,” said Brian Foreman, one of the speakers and also author of “How to Be #SocialMediaParents” and “#Connect: Reaching Youth Across the Digital Divide.”

Foreman, youth minister at Charlotte’s Providence Baptist before moving to Raleigh in 2010, said it’s not enough to tell kids what not to do. “I remember when I was a teenager. Oftentimes if my parents told me not to do something, it was the first thing I did.”

Instead, he said, parents should “understand what’s going on with our teenagers and why social media is so appealing to them.”

That should begin with one-on-one conversations about expectations and continue as the children age and social media changes, he said. “Have a conversation about what’s appropriate, (with the understanding that) what I think is appropriate in my house may not be appropriate in another house.”

Foreman warned that apps such as Yik Yak and Whisper, which allow anonymous posting, can become platforms for bullying without accountability.

Even the popular YouTube can be a problem, as he found out when his 11-year-old daughter did a search about the 2013 Boston marathon bombings. In addition to TV news broadcasts, she pulled up unedited video that could have been disturbing.

“We happened to see what was happening, and we said, ‘Let’s do the search together,’ ” he said. “No matter how aggressive I am trying to monitor things, there are always things that sneak up on me.

“Whatever the family dynamic around social media is going to be, it’s critical that parents and teens have face-to-face conversations about how to responsibly use it.”

The conference is 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. at Sardis House, Sardis Presbyterian Church, 6100 Sardis Road. Register: www.charlotteahec.org and search under “Find a workshop.”

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