How to Raise a Happy Kid in the Digital Age
Rewrite the rules to coexist peacefully with devices, phones, and other modern stressors.
Rules for how to live happily are nothing new. But lately, our well-being -- and that of our kids -- seems to be in free fall. Depression, anxiety, and even youth suicide rates are increasing, as is cell phone and device use and the constant expectation to be "on." Raising kids to be happy in today's world isn't impossible: We just need to rewrite the rules for the digital age.
The quest to make sure our kids are happy may have led us in the wrong direction. While media and tech deserve some of the blame for our collective stress, no one really knows how much. However, we do know that turning everything off doesn't magically make us happier. In fact, studies show that some types of screen-based activities can be beneficial. As more research emerges on the impact of media and tech on kids' mental health, it confirms what we've always known about how to be happy: Supportive relationships, a feeling of self-worth, strong character, and other positive influences are what really matter. And while you can't mandate joy, supporting your kid -- both online and off -- creates an environment where happiness is there for the taking. These tips can help you raise a happy kid in the digital age:
Get gritty: Grit -- the combination of perseverance and resilience that helps you bounce back from disappointments -- plays an important role in well-being. At school, online, and even with friends, kids feel pressured to achieve something on the first try. Instead, instill what's called a "growth mindset," the process of trying, failing, and learning from mistakes. When they feel defeated, their inner voice will say, "You got this!"
What Are Some Basic Gaming and Social Media Rules for Elementary Schoolers?
Young kids may not be on social media yet, but at this age, they start to interact with others in online worlds. Such video games, apps, and websites (like Animal Crossing or Minecraft) are closed environments where kids can explore, meet friends, and let their imaginations run free.
One challenge for parents and caregivers is helping kids balance time spent playing in these online worlds -- which can draw them in for long periods -- and time spent offline. And, even though online worlds have rules about behavior, some kids find ways around them. It's important to talk with children when you first introduce these games about how to avoid and respond to harmful behavior.
Kids younger than 6 probably shouldn't play in virtual worlds: If your kids can't yet read or write, they'll be frustrated in online worlds. Instead, look for preschool games that were designed for children this age.
Review the apps and sites yourself: Make sure you check out apps and sites before you let your kids use them. Don't settle for the most popular apps, games, and sites. Look around for ones that appeal to your kid's interests or have an educational angle.
What Are Some Basic Social Media Rules for Middle Schoolers?
The number of preteens using social media is climbing. Kids age 8 to 12 spend an average of 18 minutes a day on social media, while teens spend about an hour and a half. Watching online videos on platforms like YouTube or TikTok is also a popular activity among kids and teens.
Whether your kids are already using social media or asking to get started, it's a good idea to teach them some basic rules. Here are some guidelines for helping middle school kids use social media safely and responsibly:
Follow the rules: Many social sites have an age minimum of 13 by law and for reasons of safety and privacy. Encourage kids to stick to age-appropriate sites.
What Are Some Basic Social Media Rules for High Schoolers?
High school teens have their own lives online. They're checking their friends' posts (and sharing their own), watching their favorite shows, uploading photos and videos, playing games, video-chatting, and exploring their interests.
By high school, parents and caregivers hope kids understand the basics of online etiquette, such as thinking before posting, being kind, and using privacy settings. You can also teach your teens to keep a few more things in mind:
Anything on social media can be made public: Remind your teens that anyone can see what they post online -- even if they think no one will. Potential employers and college admissions staff often browse applicants' social media accounts. Ask your teens to think about who might see their profiles and how others might interpret their posts.
How to Help Teens Manage the Effects of Social Media on Their Mental Health
Tips for families on balancing the risks and rewards of online communities.
Nearly four in 10 teens and young adults (38%) reported symptoms of moderate to severe depression in 2020, up from 25% in 2018. We often assume social media only amplifies the issue, but the truth is more complicated.
Teens can use social media and the internet to find mental health information, advice, or support. But teens with mental health challenges can be at risk for unhealthy behavior online.
For the many families dealing with mental health issues, help is available. You can use this list of mental health services and online tools to find resources for a range of needs. Also, consider the tips below to help your child balance the risks and rewards of social media.
Talk to your kids about the places they feel supported online. Kids who feel safe, supported, accepted, and understood are better able to make it through difficult times. Ask what they like about particular platforms and sites. What is it about the community that gives them a sense of belonging? Ask who they follow on social media and what they like about them. Show interest in their online lives and try not to judge.
Social Media Red Flags Parents Should Know About
Find out which social media features are cause for concern -- no matter which app your kid is using.
It can be hard to keep up with the latest apps that kids are using. Just when you've figured out how to talk to your kids about Instagram, they're begging to download Snapchat and TikTok. But here's the deal: Even when new apps come along, adding new features such as the ability to disappear or track your location, they're often not that different from other apps. And if you know what to look for, you can help your kid avoid some common social media pitfalls such as drama, cyberbullying, and oversharing.
Does a red flag mean your kid shouldn't use a particular app? Not at all. Most kids use social media apps safely -- and kids don't always use every feature of every app. Also, you can often disable certain features so they're no longer a problem. Finally, talking about using social media safely, responsibly, and respectfully is the best way to help your kid identify and avoid red flags. Here are the most common social media red flags, the apps they're found in, and tips for dealing with them.
Ads and in-app purchases: Some examples: Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok
Free apps have to make money somehow, so app developers offer marketers lots of opportunities to reach kids on their platforms, including product testimonials, embedded ad links, sponsored content, and chances to buy things.
What to do: Social media advertising can be deceptive because it's designed to look like the app's regular content. And although incremental in-app purchases for things like exclusive photo filters are inexpensive, they can really add up. To understand how apps make money, you have to spend some time on each one. Familiarize yourself with the types of ads coming at your kids, teach them to recognize different types of digital marketing, and talk about what to do if they're approached online by someone trying to sell something. As for in-app purchases, you can set spending limits or turn off the ability to make in-app purchases on your kid's phone.