700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

Autistic Youth and Social Media

Jan 11, 2024
child looking at a phone outside

Social media has become an integral part of our lives, shaping how we communicate, share experiences, and seek support. In May 2023, the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued an advisory on social media and children’s mental health. This advisory is especially relevant for autistic children who may be experience cyberbullying at higher rates than their peers and who also increasingly look online for social connections.

The digital landscape presents both opportunities and challenges for autistic youth and their families. Families are encouraged to consider the following when navigating social media with their child with autism.

Establish Screen Time Boundaries

Recognize the importance of balanced screen time for both you and your child. Set clear boundaries for digital engagement by designating specific periods for social media use, educational content, and leisure. Creating a structured routine, such as a social media plan, helps establish a healthier relationship with technology. Examples of family social media plans can be found online, like this one from On Our Sleeves.

Promote Good Sleep Habits

Sleep hygiene is an important consideration for children and adolescents who use social media. Autistic youth are at risk for sleep problems and social media may further increase that risk. The light emitted by screens can disrupt circadian rhythms, impacting the quality and quantity of sleep. Creating a tech-free zone in the bedroom and considering alternative relaxation methods before bedtime can promote a health sleep routine.

Safeguard Privacy

Stress the importance of managing privacy settings to protect your child from potential online risks. Regularly review and update privacy settings on social media platforms to ensure a secure online environment for your child. Educate them about the importance of safeguarding personal information online.

Embrace Mindful Engagement

Striking a balance between online and offline interactions is key. Setting boundaries and being mindful of the emotional impact of content can help prevent information overload and ensure a healthy relationship with social media.

Encourage Digital Connections

Online interactions can lead to meaningful friendships for autistic youth. Social media allows autistic youth to connect with other neurodivergent, and neurotypical, youth with similar interests. These interactions can be less stimulating than in-person interactions for autistic youth, such as relying on typing rather than speech and decreased demands for nonverbal communication.

While online friendships can be important and meaningful, they do not replace in-person connections for autistic youth. Encourage genuine connections beyond social media with extracurricular clubs and activities than are enjoyable for your child.

Beware of Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a significant risk for autistic youth. It’s important to teach children about digital safety, appropriate online behavior, and how to report any unwanted interactions. When talking to your child about appropriate online interaction use role playing and include concrete examples and nonexamples.

When teaching autistic youth about cyberbullying and online behavior, consider skills such as signs of oversharing and how to use punctuation, emojis, and capitalization.   

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Hannah Barton, PhD
Psychiatry and Behavioral Health

Hannah Barton, PhD is a part of the physician team of Pediatric Psychology at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

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Pediatric News You Can Use From America’s Largest Pediatric Hospital and Research Center

700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.