According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology, 90% of teens between 13 and 17 use social media. Over ⅔ of teens have a smartphone with access to the internet, and according to reports, teens spend an average of nine hours a day online (not including homework).
While these statistics may be alarming, they are not unexpected. Our world has shifted to an online, digital society. We express our thoughts and emotions through video and images, clicking the heart button, and scrolling infinite targeted content.
Social media isn’t all bad. There are actually some valuable skills to learn from utilizing the sites. For example, it is social. Social media helps us stay connected to people we may not have time or capacity to see more frequently, such as relatives or friends who live far away. Other additional benefits to social media use include:
- Meeting others who share common interests
- Finding a community of our peers
- An outlet for sharing passions (music, art, video editing, comedy, etc.)
- Learning to express ourselves through video, picture, and written word
- Learning safety and security when interacting with others online
However, as many of us know all too well, social media has a dark side. One of the biggest problems to arise from social media is the increase in anxiety and self-hatred. FOMO (fear of missing out) has become a household term to describe the feeling of isolation and loneliness you can feel when scrolling through your feeds. Unfortunately, the list of reasons social media can negatively impact our mental and physical health is lengthy and can include:
- Exposure to harmful or inappropriate messages
- Exposure to dangerous people
- Social comparison
- Privacy concerns
- An unrealistic view of reality
Combined, these adverse side effects of social media can lead to potentially life-threatening feelings of depression, anxiety, self-hate, body dysmorphia, and more. Most commonly, social media can lead to a lack of sleep and social fulfillment – both of which are starting points for the more severe concerns we’ve listed. Not to mention the population we are considering (youth) is particularly impressionable and vulnerable at this point in life.
Now take a breath.
Yes, there are risks to using social media, but most things in life include risks. We are not writing this to scare you into swearing off social media forever and burying your phones in a 6-foot hole, but rather to help you understand the risks and learn how to set healthy boundaries so you and your family can use social media safely
How to Set Healthy Limits for Using Social Media as a Teenager
The first step to setting limits around social media is working on getting to a healthy mental state in general. Working with your teen to help them understand the difference between reality and social media can have a significant impact. Help them discover accounts that are authentic in how they represent themselves or even unveil how other accounts are using social media in an unrealistic way (using filters and photoshop to distort reality).
Work together to ensure your teen understands that, although their feed is all sunshine and rainbows and fancy parties and vacations, that is not most people’s true reality.
Additionally, you may consider working with a life coach to help your teenager learn how to cope with life’s challenges in healthier and more productive ways. A Positive Presence Mentor-Coach will work individually with your teenager to help them feel confident, supported, and significant. This mindset will help your teenager combat the inherent risks associated with using social media and prepare them to handle any problematic situations that may arise.
Now, there are some things you as a parent or guardian can do to help your teenager set those healthy limits:
- Be an example
If you use social media, be an example of safe and healthy social media use. Put the phone down during one-on-one conversations, at the dinner table, etc. Try not to spend too much time aimlessly scrolling. Engage with meaningful pages and personas that add positive value to your life. Hold yourself accountable to the same parameters you set for your child regarding social media.
- Plan non-phone-related activities for your teenager
This could be a family outing, an individual activity, or an activity for your teen and their friends. Whatever it is, take some initiative to plan something that will get your teen off their phone and involved in something structured. This could be signing them up for a sport, setting aside an evening for painting, baking, crafting, going on a walk, volunteering, etc. Give them something to look forward to that has nothing to do with scrolling.
- Block certain harmful sites
Some sites are just inappropriate for kids and teenagers to access. You can install a blocker on their phone or computer to ensure they never stumble on these sites. Consider having an open and honest conversation with your child about this decision.
- Teach your child about the dangers of social media and what is and is not appropriate.
We all have to learn appropriate online behavior. It’s not something that comes hardwired into us when we are born. Although your child will learn many of these behaviors on their own, it is still essential for parents to have conversations with their kids about safe online behavior. This includes not oversharing (e.g., your home address, school name, financial information, etc.) and not engaging with people you do not know.
- Set actual boundaries
As a parent, you can set boundaries on when and where your kid is allowed to access the internet. Whatever this looks like for you, we suggest making it a conversation between you and your child so they feel empowered to follow these guidelines instead of being at the effect of another rule in their life.
- Monitor social media activity
Depending on your relationship with your kid, it may be worthwhile to set checkpoints for you to monitor their online activity. This could look like a weekly check-in, a daily recap conversation, or just access to their accounts. Remember to respect your child by setting this expectation upfront instead of doing it secretly.
Managing your teen’s relationship with social media and the internet is challenging for all parents. It is a constant balancing act of respect and trust vs protection and involvement. It is important to note that whatever works for you and your family is up to you. These are just some suggestions to try.
The reality is that social media is not going anywhere. In fact, it is continuing to become more and more pervasive. We see it in our personal lives and our professional lives. Smart and safe use of social media is a skill we are all learning together as the online landscape continues to evolve over time. Truth be told, parents may even learn a thing or two about safe social media practices from their teenagers.
Be open to learning and growing while still remembering to be vigilant. This stuff is hard and it is continuing to change all the time. You or your teen may benefit from some expert guidance and support as you navigate social media, anxiety, and mental wellness as individuals and as a family. Positive Presence is uniquely qualified to help your family through these challenges.