Social media – The good, the bad and the ugly: A parent’s guide (Part I)

Nearly all children and teens that have access to a computer, tablet or telephone use the Internet daily.  Children and teens most commonly go online to text (87%), visit social media sites (e.g. Snapchat, Instagram,) (83%), email (77%), instant message (63%), video chat (59%), online game in multiplayer forums (45%), visit virtual worlds (e.g. Minecraft) (35%), write blogs (28%), and Tweet (27%). 

There is a huge discrepancy between what children and teens are doing and what their parents perceived they are doing.  Parents vastly underestimate the time their children are online and have poor accuracy in describing their online activities. One explanation for this incongruence is that parents are unaware of all the apps available to their children.

The most popular apps used by children

At the time of this writing, the most popular apps used by children and teen are:

Messaging apps

  • WhatsApp lets users sent texts, audio, video, and photos to one or more people simultaneously with no limits or fees.  Adolescents like this platform when their parents have put limits on their phone-based text messaging.  And, the text messages do not show up on the family phone bill.  This allows teens to have a second online life when mom and dad are trying to monitor them.
  • Kik Messenger also allows free texts with no limits.  Additionally, it does not require a working phone number. So if parents have cut their child’s phone line, he or she can still text with Kik.  Kik is the life boat for the teens who have had their phone line taken away.

Temporary apps

  • Snapchat is an app that sends pictures or micro videos of up to 10 seconds that can be modified by static or dynamic filters.  It is probably the most popular app for teens because they think that their messages disappear after being watched.  However, this is not true in all cases because Snapchats can be captured and remain online forever.  However, this misunderstanding empowers teens to send “snaps” that perhaps they normally wouldn’t.


  • Instagram creates a digital photo album that users can comment on or “love” by pressing a heart icon.  The platform is like a huge popularity contest, heavily used by girls, because it gives public validation.  It’s like choosing to be in high school for the rest of your life, only more public.
  • Twitter is a virtual billboard where users can write, post a picture or video with whatever they may be thinking, doing, or seeing.  Others can see the “tweets” with the ability to comment on or share with other users.  The bad news of Twitter is you can’t edit tweets.  Once it’s out there, it’s out there. You can only delete it, but it may have been captured by a screenshot and still live on.  This can feel permanent for teens although it may not improve their judgment on what to tweet.

Video sharing 

  • Periscope has live streaming of video and the catch phrase for the app is “see the world through someone else’s eyes.”  Anyone 13 years of age and older can use this app which allows users to live stream videos to the dedicated website and app for others to watch and comment on.  This app allows teens to be exhibitionists or voyeurs, or both.  This can cause teens to do things they normally wouldn’t in order to get “likes” or watch things that are inappropriate.

Nothing about these apps is inherently positive or negative.  It all depends on their use.  Children and adolescents have higher incidences of negative use of online social networks because they lack the lived experience, understanding and judgment that adults have which can put them in risky situations.

The next two blog posts in this series will cover the common benefits and risks of social media as well as specific recommendations to help keep kids safe.

Knowledge is Power

What new information did you learn from this posting? Did it help you identify something in your family you would like to change? Share your experience below and what steps you plan on taking to guide your family.

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About the instructor
Proactive Parenting
Deanna Marie Mason PhD
More than 20 years of clinical experience helping families:
Bachelor's Degree in Registered Nursing, Master’s Degree in Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and PhD in Nursing. University professor, patient education specialist, pediatric researcher, published author and reviewer to first-line international scientific journals, continuous philanthropic activity related to health promotion and education, wife and mother of two children.

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