Navigating Your Child’s Social Media: Let’s start the conversation… (Part 2)
How can I help?
Keeping in mind that there are many risks with social media including some that we have not outlined in this blog, there are also many personal considerations for each individual and family. While the steps below can help, these ideas are not exhaustive and may not be full proof. We always recommend seeking help from providers (e.g., doctors, therapists), your child’s school, and other experts to keep your children and teens safe both online and in person.
Some steps you can take include:
Start having the hard conversations early. These conversations should include both social media and screen time. Discuss the very real risks inherent in social media, and open your children’s eyes to the reality of FOMO, curated profiles and content, social media ‘rabbit holes,’ inaccurate, polarized, and harmful content, cyberbullying, online predators, and so on. Talk about the need for balancing out their lives, discuss family rules and include your children in the decision making. Talk with your children about interacting with people they know, and encourage them to take great caution if there are any interactions with strangers. Explicitly explain the risks and dangers, at an age appropriate level. Make the conversations safe by creating a general environment that is free of judgment, in which your children know they can bring their emotions and concerns to you for support and problem solving rather than punishment. While we recommend setting boundaries and rules, we also recommend offering co-regulation, engaging in emotional attunement, and discipling with consciousness and kindness (e.g., allowing logical consequences and really thinking about how you want to teach your child and help them problem solve, learn, and grow). If you struggle with setting boundaries, try to remember that doing so is loving. It is ok if your child is mad at you for the boundaries you set. But again, try to keep in mind what your goal is when setting them. When it is appropriate, take your children’s input into consideration. When it comes to social media, kids and teens may actually feel relief if and when they finally disconnect. If your kids won’t talk about themselves, try asking them about their friends’ experiences to get the conversations started.
Make decisions about social media rules for your house based on knowing your child, their maturity, and what they can handle developmentally. Strongly consider recommendations given by those doing the research on social media and screen use and providing guidelines for engagement and limitations, including age-based restrictions. And then still keep the conversations going and the checks and monitoring in place to ensure safety as well as you possibly can. Be open with your child about any monitoring you are doing. Make it a part of your conversations and follow through, whether you are using a parental control app, or checking your child’s devices yourself. The hardest thing is knowing that, no matter what we do, there may be things we don’t know, can’t see, and can’t control. Both in regard to our children’s social media use, and otherwise. Consider when, where, and with whom your kids and teens may be using devices, and what safeguards need to be in place, with that in mind (e.g., you may not allow social media but your child could be accessing it through a friend’s device).
Help your child find balance in their life. Ensure they are sleeping, eating, engaging in real life interactions, spending time outdoors, exercising and moving their bodies, and engaging in hobbies and interests. These are all protective for mental health, and while social media is not the only factor in children’s mental health, it is a factor.
Put screens away at night. Sleep is crucial for mental health and well-being. If this means you lock all the devices away at night, including your own, it is advisable.
Talk about privacy. Make sure your kids understand that what they put on social media may not ever go away, and that just because something is set as private, doesn’t mean that it is. Remind kids that everything they do and say online leaves a digital footprint.
Learn about parental controls and also about the ways kids and teens can hide what they are doing on their devices. Kids are able to figure out the tricks pretty easily - from deleting conversations to using apps that look like something benign in order to hide their social media apps. Keep your eye on sites like commonsensemedia.org to stay as up to date as you can on how to protect your children.
Pay attention to laws and regulations around social media. Read the pros and cons of the different congressional acts and decide which ones you want to support for your family’s well-being. Also keep up to date on recommendations coming from organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Use social media together. When you can, view social media together. Talk about what you see (and don’t see) and discuss what’s real and what is not.
Remember, as adults we set the tone in our households for both screen use and social media use. So, it is important that we unplug, that we think about how curated our own social media has become, that we consider the things we like and comment on and who we follow, and that we consider what we say and what it projects about things like self-esteem and body image. Follow your children on social media and have them follow you, as you set the tone for what safe social media use should look like. Spend time with your children doing all kinds of activities, so that you set the tone for balance. Make sure many of those activities don’t involve screens, and have times of the day when screens are put away – by everyone.
What are some warning signs that my child or teen is struggling with social media, or otherwise?
The following are some warning signs your child may be struggling. This list is not exhaustive.
Sleeping more or less
Changing eating habits
Spending more time alone, isolated, and behind a closed door
Decreasing time spent with friends
Drinking alcohol or using drugs
Changing clothes and style suddenly
Avoiding or no longer finding pleasure in previously enjoyed activities
Increasing irritability and/or mood swings
Lying or cheating
Showing increasing difficulty giving up screens or being away from social media
Are there any good things about social media for my teen?
We also need to remember that there are positive things about social media use for teens who have strong caregiver monitoring (including ongoing conversation and education), balance in their lives, and the maturity to manage safe use. Some benefits of social media include the following:
Social media allows our teens to connect with friends, both near and far.
Some neurodivergent teens, for example, may find interacting with peers easier over the screen than they do in real life.
Teens can connect with other based on interests and hobbies, and even explore new interests and hobbies.
Teens can explore their identities and find communities to support them. For example, a teen who identifies as LGBTQIA+ may find their safe space on social media.
Teens can let to know others with diverse backgrounds.
Teens can express political and personal views, and can find likeminded people with whom to connect. They can support causes they believe in and become actively engaged in volunteering and advocacy.
Social media can allow teens a platform for sharing ideas and creativity.
Some research suggests that social media can improve communication, social interaction, and STEM skills.
Social media may allow teens to access information about health that they are not comfortable talking about. The caveat being that they have to be able to recognize what is real and what is fake.
Some research suggests that limiting social media use too much can increase anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts in teens.
Some research suggests that social media can improve mood, health, and well-being for some individuals. This may be the case more often when children get plenty of physical activity, as well, as it has been shown, in some research, to be protective against negative mental health impacts of social media use.
Social media allows learning to happen when teens use it to complete activities, and even schoolwork, together. It can be a wonderfully collaborative platform.
Social media can provide excellent entertainment.
Teens can get to know others with diverse backgrounds.
There is no doubt that finding the proper balance for social media use is tricky. As caregivers and community members we are forced to become more tech savvy to keep up with our children and ensure their safety on social media. Doing so is daunting, and guaranteed safety is hard to come by. What we do know is that it is important to explore the pros and cons of social media use, to keep up with the research, and to make decisions based on your family and children’s particular needs and personalities. Monitoring is essential, as are ongoing conversations, setting the tone for social media use in your home, and helping your children find balance in their lives. If you have more questions about your child’s social media use, or if you need support, reach out. Our team at WBMA is here to help!
Jaclyn Halpern, PsyD
Director/Co-Founder, The SOAR for Psychotherapy and Testing; Licensed Psychologist & Clinical Supervisor