Some students in the Denair Unified School District spend so much time playing video games or engaging with social media that it reduces the time they have for school-related homework, doing chores and interacting with family and friends. Still others report they don’t get enough sleep at night because they’re too busy texting, making video calls or returning to their favorite social media sites, according to Lina Villegas, a mental health clinician for the Denair district.
Some parents have told Villegas that they have noticed mood changes in their children such as irritability and physical aggression such as breaking a TV or video game console, punching a wall or yelling and screaming if they lose at a video game. Parents have said their children sometimes isolate themselves in their rooms while others report being victims of cyberbullying.
All these situations and more is why Villegas hosted a meeting for parents recently at Denair Middle School to talk about the risks to children who spend too much time online. A representative from Legacy Health Endowment in Turlock led a discussion centered around two parental guides – one on video games, the other on social media – that the organization created with the specific purpose of educating parents about the dangers. The guides are available in English and Spanish on the LHE website.
The potential for harm to children from too much time spent online is real. Earlier this year, the U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, issued a health advisory about social media aimed at protecting American children. Despite the warning signs, many parents still do not fully appreciate the potential threats their children face from cyberbullying and online predators.
LHE’s guides are one attempt to address the knowledge gap too many parents don’t recognize even exists. The guides are full of easy-to-understand information about the most popular social media sites and gaming portals, and include practical tips, a glossary of key terms and other advice about how parents can better safeguard their children.
The meeting was attended by 15 parents and three students.
“The group was very appreciative to have the information and many acknowledged learning new info, especially around gaming,” said Amy Wolfe, a Legacy official who led the discussion. “There was a shared frustration about not fully understanding the complexity of and how fast social media and gaming changes.”
Villegas said there are many potential risks children face when they spend too much time unsupervised online:
- Children often share their personal information, such as their location in real-time, their name, their date of birth, where they go to school and if they are alone at home, making them an easy target for online predators.
- When kids play video games, they often play with individuals from other states, never having actual physical interaction with them, and it is difficult to know if they are children or not.
- Some gaming sites contain online gambling, creating risky opportunities to develop new addictions.
- Pre-teens and teens are usually curious about the dating world, and they often start engaging in multiple online dating sites on which they create false profiles, exposing themselves to inappropriate mature content.
Villegas recommended that parents talk to their children about what they’re doing and seeing online, know their passwords so they can routinely monitor what they’ve been exposed to and set a good example of appropriate online behavior or “netiquette.”
“It is essential that parents set limits on the amount of time their kids spend online and the types of applications they are allowed to use or download on their phones,” Villegas said. “Children must learn that it is okay to unplug each night as part of their nighttime routine and to stop using their electronics for at least one or two hours before bed.”
One of the Denair mothers who attended the meeting told Villegas that she and other parents have a lot of homework to do to read the guides and help protect their children. The mother admitted that she sometimes falls asleep while her son is playing games online. Her goal is to become more attentive to what he’s doing.
“If parents create a habit of having an open and constant conversation with their children about what to post, what not to post, what to do if someone makes an inappropriate request, and that not everything that the children watch on social media is real, it will create a positive relationship between guardians, children and social media,” Villegas advised. “Additionally, parents must be creative and offer their kids other offline opportunities to help them disconnect from their devices, such as having meals without devices, family nights, outdoor activities or gatherings with friends in real life.”
Villegas also encouraged parents to become familiar with how to use the privacy and other safety settings on their children’s phones and devices. The guides go into detail about how to do that with social media sites like Facebook or Instagram, the newer ones such as TikTok and Snapchat, or popular gaming sites like Twitch or Discord.
Villegas offered these resources for parents who would like more information:
- Social Media & Gaming Guides
- Parental tips: DOWNLOAD C.R.A.M. & ACE INTERNET SAFETY
- Are video games and screens another addiction?
- Is Your Teen Addicted to Tech? How to Stop Panicking and Create Healthy Solutions
- YouTube Video: Keeping Kids Safe from Online Predators
Denair will host another online-themed parental meeting on Nov. 13 at 6 p.m. in Room E4 on the middle school campus. Casey Cooper, a detective with the Special Victims Unit of the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, will talk about “Internet Safety and Human Trafficking.”