When Grandma Can’t Monitor Online Behaviors

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I’m calling all Grandmas to join online social networks and check out their grandchildren’s Web pages. My mother-in-law keeps in touch with her grandchildren in this manner. Having Grandma online has the added advantage of more respectable online postings by her grandchildren. Not everyone has a Grandma who can monitor online activities, so the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has listed specific ways in which pediatricians can assist parents with children who engage in social media.1

“Social media,” the term used to describe online activities that allow interactions with other online individuals, includes not only social networking sites but also gaming sites. Children of all ages are participating in the social media craze by way of computers and cell phones. According to the AAP’s recent clinical report, pediatricians can help parents by doing the following:

  • Encourage parents to educate themselves about this topic so they are better prepared to talk to their kids.
  • Encourage parents to develop a family online-use plan that spells out appropriate online behaviors.
  • Promote on-going parent-child communication and supervision of online activities.1

It seems like the list of topics to include in anticipatory guidance during well-child visits keeps growing. Pediatricians must choose wisely which topics to discuss during this limited time. In my opinion, discussing social media would be time well spent, especially at the preteen and teen visits. However, keep in mind that younger children also play web-based games that allow for interactions with other participants in “cyberland.”

The potential risks to the child’s health and overall well-being, as listed in the AAP report,1 justify the suggestion to add social media to the anticipatory guidance regimen. Although the emotional and long-term effects are not fully known right now, depression and suicide are the most ominous potential consequences of social media participation. Social media counseling can slide smoothly into place with the developmental and behavioral assessment during the well-child visit. That is if you can direct some patients’ (and parents’) attention away from their cell phones long enough to appropriately discuss the matter. To the list of social media don’ts, I would add cell phone use during a doctor’s office appointment.