Dear Cici, 

I discovered my kids are on TikTok which concerns me. How do I talk to them about the perils of social media and what kind of boundaries are appropriate to set? 

—Wary in Waiehu 

Dear WIW,

You’re right to be wary and you’re not alone. Media reports about kids participating in internet “challenges” have parents concerned. Apps like TikTok and Instagram are known for their strong algorithms that funnel viewers towards more and more extreme content and there is evidence of increased rates of depression, negative body image, bullying and behavior problems in kids who spend a lot of time on the apps. That said, our kids are growing up with technology as part of their everyday lives so the best thing we can do is teach them how to navigate the digital world safely. 

To begin with, it’s easier to set expectations early rather than trying to backtrack and enforce limits after the fact. Make time as a family to sit down to talk about use of technology, rules and expectations. How much time is each person spending online? How will you know if it’s interfering with other areas of life? 

Rather than focusing entirely on the perils and risks; acknowledge that not everything about tech and social media is risky and not all content is inappropriate. Many people benefit from the connections and communities they find online. Talk with your child about how to use technology and social media in a positive way. 

It’s probably a good idea to be on the apps your child is frequenting. Ask them to help you set up an account and teach you how to use the app. Talk to your child about what they’re interested in, the kinds of creators/content they follow and take time to watch with them. How does your child feel after spending time online? How does the app help them engage with others? 

Technology is a great tool, but as with any tool, it’s important to teach them how to use it safely and effectively. Talk with your child regarding what kind of personal information they might be sharing online and the risks of online predators who may try to contact them. Remind them that anything they post is forever. 

Parental controls are only so effective at protecting kids online, as there are ways to bypass restrictions and many kids start “secret” accounts. It’s better to help your child develop the critical thinking skills that will help keep them safe throughout their lives.

If you have a question for Cici, email it to [email protected].