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Catholic Charities Education Features

Catholic Charities mental health counselors share online safety tips for parents and caregivers


According to a U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory issued earlier this year, there are increasing concerns about the impact of social media, both positively and negatively, on youth mental health. With a new school year starting, the mental health counselors at Catholic Charities of Buffalo are sharing tips for caregivers to help keep their young children and teens safe online.

boy sitting by the table while using hand sanitizer
Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

Two key factors of safe social media use are limits and communication.

“One of the things we were focusing on in terms of back to school internet safety tips is limiting and monitoring electronic use; parents really assisting with limiting and monitoring the use of electronics with their children. We’re talking about back to school, but this is really all of the time,” said Caitlin Latona, program supervisor of the Behavioral Health Clinic in Niagara Falls.

Communicating openly with children about how they use the internet is also important in protecting children from online dangers.

“Really collaborating with your child, especially teens, in terms of electronics is another way to keep them safe, so they don’t really shut down and try to hide things, such as having contact with individuals they shouldn’t be on social media,” said Latona.

Cyberbullying, cyber predators, stealing personal information, scams and malware are just a few of the dangers that internet users face. Children are more susceptible as they are more trusting and have less life experience.

“Some of it is really just teaching your child to be aware of the dangers, setting boundaries with who they’re accepting friend requests from,” said Latona. “The parent should monitor to some degree here and there, possibly setting some controls or time restraints as best they can just to help the kiddo navigate all of that kind of stuff.”

Parents, loved ones, and teachers should be aware that changes in behavior could be a sign of online abuse. If a usually outgoing child suddenly becomes withdrawn, isolated or seems closed off, those could be a sign that something has happened.

“Whether that’s an online exposure to something that was traumatic or even in person, of course, just like daily life and other kinds of events that could be happening for that kid, that might show that they’re struggling or recently experienced some changes. That would definitely be an indicator to be curious. At the very least  to ask about that. ‘Hey, I noticed these changes. Just want to make sure you’re OK. I’m here for you.’ Things of that nature. Not pushing or prying too much, but identifying the change, and really being curious about that and stressing the support for that person that they’re, they’re noticing those changes with.”

Here are some other tips Catholic Charities mental health counselors recommend:

· Consider having a family electronics basket and normalize turning in electronics during meals, homework and at bedtime. Even 30-minute increments can be a great start to limit screen time.

· Be aware of what your child is doing online and talk with them about being safe and not sharing personal information.

 · Caregivers are encouraged to check their child’s phone, tablet and computer on occasion, especially if they notice a change in behavior. Let them know that you will randomly ask them and be monitoring their usage.

 · Many cell phone carriers have special safety features parents can use such as turning off the phone after a certain time or tracking location.

 · Use parental controls to restrict access to dangerous or unwanted sites and limit the amount of time the device can be used.

 · Think twice before removing social media, as not only does this risk social isolation, it also doesn’t teach them new behavior. Instead, spend time online with your child to teach them about appropriate online etiquette.

 · The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends less than one to two hours of screen time per day for children. While technology may often be needed for homework, try to engage in other “unplugged” activities such as sports, reading, art, music, or just playing outside to limit the time your child spends online, in front of a screen.


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