Helping youngsters stay safe with social media – don’t make this an “internet summer”

The following column is appearing in a number of APG of East Central Mn newspapers during late June and early July, 2024. For example, the Sun Sailor. Union Times and others


Don’t make this summer an ‘internet summer’


Here are four of the most stunning things I’ve read in a long time. And yes, I’ll offer suggestions about how to deal with the problems identified in these four areas.

  1. “U.S. teens spend an average of 4.8 hours/day on social media. Forty-one percent of teens with the highest social media use rate their overall mental health as poor or very poor, compared with 23% of those with the lowest use.” Source: American Psychological Association, April 1, 2024,.
  2. “The mental health crisis among young people is an emergency – and social media has emerged as an important contributor. Adolescents who spend more than three hours a day on social media face double the risk of anxiety and depression symptoms.” Source: Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, Surgeon General of the U.S., writing in The New York Times, June 17 2024.
  3. Instagram regularly recommends sexual videos to accounts for teenagers that appear interested in racy content and does so within minutes of when they first log in, according to tests by The Wall Street Journal and an academic researcher at Northeastern University. Source: Wall Street Journal, June 2024.
  4. “Internet-based games are designed by some of the nation’s paid psychologists to be incredibly addictive.” Source: Dr. David Nathan, Allina Health.

These authorities convince me there’s a vital role for parent involvement in social media use, and summer is a critical time, with students out of school.

The last example is our son, who’s been asked to make presentations at several conferences on these issues. Here’s a link to a recent television interview he did, offering suggestions for families.

More insight comes from Carol Becker, who teaches health policy at St. Catherine University and is a parent of a 17-year-old attending Bloomington Kennedy High School. Becker reports: “My daughter’s generation has seen how hurtful social media can be. This generation is more savvy.”

Her daughter has been the victim of cyberbullying. Becker reminds her daughter: “There are some bad people out there who want to hurt or exploit you. Assume that some people are going to be mean and hurtful.”

“We talk often about a friend who posted something on the internet which was given to her boss. Because of what she wrote, she lost her job.”

Becker encourages her daughter to make “good choices and decisions – don’t put pictures of yourself on social media, where they can be forever.”

Becker and our son agree on that and many other things. For example, Nathan explained: “You are models for your children. If they see you as spending huge amounts of time on social media, they figure it’s OK for them to do the same.”

Two other key suggestions from our son:

  • For younger people, set limits on the time they can spend on social media. This is a little like not letting them eat cupcakes all day. If they do that, they won’t be very interested in eating carrots or celery.
  • Actively help youngsters identify their interests and find other things to do this summer instead of spending hours on social media and internet games. “There are, for example, clubs, teams, camps, work. Without adult intervention, many children will spend much of their day on screens.”

Here’s a link to Mayo Clinic suggestions for parents of teens, which includes and complements what’s above.

Here are Mayo Clinic suggestions for parents of younger children.

Parents and families have a vital role in helping youngsters use, but not abuse or be abused by social media. This should be a summer for fun – both on and off the internet.

Joe Nathan is a former teacher and co-director of the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome at