Published on 18 July 2023

    The prevalence of social media today means it is only a matter of time before your child uses it. Here's how you can navigate this aspect of their digital life responsibly.

    ‘If it’s not on social media, it didn’t happen’.

    You probably would have come across this saying before, given that it is a popular mantra of the digital age that is symbolic of the importance and prevalence of social media in society today.

    Given the ever-growing influence of social media, its impact, both beneficial and detrimental, has unsurprisingly become a contentious topic of debate, particularly with regard to its effects on child development.


    Establishing open communicationwith your child sets the foundation for healthy social media usage According to a survey, two-thirds of children aged seven to nine in Singapore use smartphones every day. Many children were also found to have a social media presence – more than 40% of them have their own Facebook accounts, while 25% of them are on Instagram. “The pervasiveness of social media use, especially among adolescents aged ten to 19 years old, is an inevitable phenomenon. This increased substantially during the Covid-19 pandemic, as in-person social interactions were replaced with online interactions,” explained Dr Chee Tji Tjian, Consultant, Department of Psychological Medicine, National University Hospital (NUH). Dangers of social media While social media use among children and adolescents is inevitable, there are several issues that could arise if it is not managed responsibly.“I have seen young children who would refuse to eat a full meal and even forgo sleep just to use TikTok,” Dr Chee recounted. “These children can be incredibly challenging for their parents because they lack the ability to regulate their emotions, and as such, get out of control.”In addition, children who lack parental guidance and supervision while using social media are at an increased risk of encountering harmful content.“I have often seen young people who go on TikTok when they are feeling low and start watching content that explores darker themes or subject matter. It is not something they actively look for, but it gets fed to them because their eyeballs might linger longer on such harmful videos,” explained Dr Chee.Self-harm videos, in particular, are a major concern, as it could encourage children to mimic the acts they see.“Photos and videos circulating on social media of young people self-harming can trigger difficult thoughts and feelings among others who feel similar,” Dr Chee elaborated.“Repeated and prolonged exposure to content of such nature can lead to the normalisation of these harmful behaviours. Eventually, it may serve as an impetus for self-harming behaviour, even among children who may not have done so prior.”Cyberbullying is another pervasive negative aspect of social media. The inherent anonymity of social media enables people to engage in toxic behaviours without facing immediate repercussions. The use of social media and digital platforms expands the reach of the bullying behaviour, prolongs the duration of harassment, and exposes victims to a wider audience, intensifying the emotional distress and psychological suffering experienced by the victims.Excessive screen time could also have an adverse effect on the development of a child’s brain, as Dr Chee shared, “When a child spends long periods of time staring at a screen, it could lead to a slower development of the prefrontal cortex of their brain.“This is the part of the brain that defines us as humans in many ways – it is responsible for executive functions like controlling impulses or emotions, sustaining attention, following through multi-step instructions, and persisting in a hard task.”Protecting your child Implementing social media usage guidelines is key to safe-guarding the physical, emotional, and social well-being of a child. As a general guideline for parents, Dr Chee suggests limiting the use of devices to a common area where parents can easily supervise the content their child is consuming, while also monitoring the amount of time they spend on their devices.“Before having those measures in place, it is important to talk about screen time and agree on a pre-set allowance,” Dr Chee said. “This applies to everyone in the family, and parents should be the ones setting the example. Setting boundaries around social media usage is key Supervisethe content directly through parental controls on devices Set ground rules on social media usage Limit their presence on social media until older Restrictthe overall amount of time spent on social media •••••••••••••••••••••••••                                ••••••••••••••••••••••••• Pay attention totheir emotions Respectchildren’s feelings Listenactively Implementactive communication everyday about various topics Practicemindfulness of your tone of voice Risks of unsupervised social media use for young age Content normalising self-harm Unrealistic impressions of the society Online bullyingHarmful and damaging content to self-esteem of children aged 7 to 9in Singaporeuse smartphones every day 2/3 are onInstagram 25 % haveFacebook accounts More than 40 % ••••••••••••••••••• ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

    “I encourage parents to co-watch videos with your child so that you are aware of the content they are consuming. This can also serve as a way of bonding with your child.”

    While there are no strict rules for determining when a child should be exposed to social media, Dr Chee suggests that parents should maintain limitations on its use until their child reaches the age of 12.

    “You might trust your child, but the content that comes through social media can be difficult to monitor,” Dr Chee said. “It is fluid and you can never know what content can come up on screen next. Children need boundaries, structures, and a certain level of maturity to navigate this.” 

    In consultation with Dr Chee Tji Tjian, Consultant, Department of Psychological Medicine, NUH.

    Download the full infographics here.

    Related Articles