Social Media, Devices and What Our Kids CAN Do

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If you have kids or teens, you probably have some sort of a new device floating around after the holidays. Maybe a computer, iPad, smartphone, tablet or gaming device.

According to research by Common Sense Media from 2019, 53 percent of kids own a smart phone by age 11. And 84 percent of teenagers have their own phone. With the pandemic, and everyone being moved into the digital space now more than ever, those numbers have gone up. We have relied on our devices to help us navigate school, work, and keep a semblance of connection with one another.

One of the side effects of so much device time means we are normalizing children younger and younger having access to a device. What does that mean for us as parents knowing that we need to protect them in this space?

The conversations with our child about online safety can feel daunting. Overwhelming. Frustrating. The internet is a huge space in which our children can get lost. So our natural inclination is to immediately tell them what NOT to do. Why? Because we feel in bringing up all of the “wrong” things they shouldn’t do, our kids will recognize those wrong things and then simply not do them.

After chatting with thousands of parents and teens, I can tell you that this method doesn’t necessarily work… for parent or child. Why? Because the internet is noisy, and what kids are seeing and doing will drown out any well meaning parent demands of what not to do.

More importantly, teens are simply tired of hearing what NOT to do. They hear it everyday. It has now become background noise to them. A steady hum of annoyance that they shake their heads, agree not to do the “wrong” thing, and move on with their online life.

I always ask students during conferences if they are tired of hearing what “not” to do. I always get a loud, resounding, YES! I then ask if they have ever been told what they “can” do. The majority of them say, NO.

If we are going to give them devices, we must tell them what they CAN do. I say all the time, kids are like having a puppy in your home. The puppy will chew on your furniture or it will chew on the bone that you give it. It’s the same thing with our kids in the online space.

They are already doing it, we just simply need to re-direct them to a positive, appropriate place to….chew…if you will. So here are a few tips to help you have a “CAN” conversation with your child.

Research and then teach them the apps they can use. Common Sense Media has a wonderful list of apps by age to help you find ones that are safe. There are apps for meditation and mindfulness. Kids are incredibly stressed and anxious.

These apps are geared to teens and they are wonderful for walking them through anxious feelings. A fun project for you and your teen could be to start an after school or summer business together. Dog walking, baby sitting or grass cutting for instance. You set the business up on Facebook then work as a team answering messages and posting future information. This is a wonderful way to teach them responsibility online, as well as being something you can do together.

I tell kids all the time that Facebook may be for old people, but if they want to make some money…then that is the place to be! This will also teach them business skills they need as they get jobs and go to college.

Speaking of, if they have Instagram or Tik Tok, and they are getting ready for college, they can hashtag the schools they are interested in. This will give an insider’s view of what the schools are really like. If they play team sports, using their social media to uplift the team is a wonderful way to use their online time.

Teach them how to explore the world virtually. Do you have a want to be traveler? The possibilities here are endless. They can “visit” virtually all of the places they want to travel to, make a list, then set goals to see the places in person one day.

Help them set up a blog or a vlog where they can begin to showcase their writing skills. Do you have an author in your home? The ideas and opportunities to teach them what they CAN do here are endless.

Our kids are inundated with online stressors every day. In teaching them what they CAN do, through conversations about what they are interested in, we can slowly begin to shift the negative direction of online use.

They can begin to learn how to prioritize their time, protect their online space, and feel empowered knowing that they decide where to put their virtual energy every day. And what a wonderful way to kick off the new year…with positive, safe interaction online!


Kristi Bush serves as a national education consultant and social media safety advocate. She is a licensed social worker with greater than 15 years of clinical practice and health care experience. She attended Troy and Auburn University where she studied social work and counseling. Kristi travels nationally and has spoken with thousands of children, parents, professionals and organizations about the benefits and threats associated with social media. You may reach Kristi through her website at

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