Kids and Social Media: The Official Worry/Don’t Worry Crib Sheet

When it comes to children and electronic communication, it can be hard for parents to separate hype from reality. So we boiled it down for you.

Adolescent brains have undeveloped frontal lobes, the area responsible for reasoning and judgment. So yes, they will do stupid things with their cell phones.
Don’t Worry: Researchers at the University of New Hampshire found the sexting rates reported in the media to be overblown. Actual rates hover at one percent, and it often occurs between two teens already in an intimate relationship.

Sexual Predators
According to Janis Wolak at UNH, an online sexual solicitation of a child looks a lot like the mall-on-a-Sunday-afternoon version: a 25-year-old guy hitting on a 13-year-old girl.
Don’t Worry: This kind of solicitation is rare, and most kids respond with an “Um, gross … ” and move on. Wolak says the nightmare scenario of a predator tracking down a child on the Internet, waiting in the bushes, and targeting her for assault “is not happening.”

The Cyberbullying Research Center found that 20 percent of kids have been cyberbullied, which can be crueler, more widely broadcast, and have more lasting power than playground-style torment.
Don’t Worry: The rate of cyberbullying has been flat for 10 years, according to Sameer Hinduja of the research center, and when kids trust their parents, they tell them if it happens.

Suggestive Photos
Yes, college admissions officers will scan your child’s Facebook page for untoward photos and comment threads that include words like “wicked” and “hammered.”
Don’t Worry: Unless your child is a Girl Gone Wild, she’ll be fine. Admissions folks are mainly looking for consistency between the application and online presentation.

The Internet
Kids spend more time on the Internet than doing anything else today, and about 10 percent of all people become clinically addicted.
Don’t Worry: There are oodles of positive online offerings, and according to the Pew Research Center, parents are still the number one influence in their kids’ online life — meaning there should be plenty of opportunity to steer them to the good stuff.

Video Games
Because adolescent brains are still developing, whatever synaptic connections they’re forming through repetition are literally changing the nature of their brains.
Don’t Worry: Ian Spence at the University of Toronto found that kids who play first-person-shooter games had significant improvements in their visual attention — which means your little gunslinger may be less likely to crash the family minivan.