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Social media tips

Teach your kids the best ways to use social media. Photo: adobestock

Parents have to make tough decisions all the time about what is best for our children. We think about the pros and the cons and do our best, and hope we did our best. Personally, I think one of the hardest decisions facing parents right now involves technology and social media. We see the benefits daily — communication, connection, and access to information. Yet, we also know there are drawbacks — isolating, time consuming, and it can impact our mood, self-esteem, and body image. 

Recently, there has been a lot of research shedding new light on some of these drawbacks and the impact to teens, even prompting the U.S. surgeon general to issue a health advisory stating that social media can profoundly harm the mental health of youth, particularly adolescent girls. Yikes! What is a parent to do with this new information besides freak out? After taking a deeper look into the research and listening to many thought leaders on this topic, here are my tips: 

KNOW YOUR CHILD

According to the latest research, 95 percent of teens use social media. And even though the minimum age requirement to join is 13, almost 40 percent of kids ages 8–12 are also on social media. This makes it tougher for parents to either ban social media or try to hold out until their kids are older. In addition, right now there are no age verifications nor is parental consent required, two steps I think would be very beneficial. Add to this that it is almost impossible for parents to enforce their rules around using social media unless they plan on following their child or constantly looking over their child’s shoulder. So until these platforms do their part, it is up to parents. 

Decisions around social media are complex and dependent on various factors, including the child’s maturity level and ability to handle online interactions safely and responsibly. Other factors to consider: does your child feel a need to try and keep up, easily feel left out, or prone to feelings of loneliness or anxiousness? As a parent, you know your child best, so taking all these factors into account is an important step when considering social media use. 

ENGAGE AND MENTOR

Whether your child is on social media or begging you to join, it is important to engage in regular conversations on the topic. Asking questions that help get your teen to identify the positives and negatives is a great first step. One way to do this is to pose hypothetical questions to learn and talk through how your child would respond to various situations that might be encountered online. I try to talk to my teens about how they are using the different apps and to point out ways the apps may be using them, such as trying to get them to stay on longer or trying to sell them something. Setting time limits and “downtime” for these apps is also important and something they will surely fight you on, but it ensures they continue to find a balance with offline activities. We also want to mentor for them the idea that not every moment needs to be documented, and sometimes it is more important to enjoy and be present in a moment than try to get the perfect post. 

RED FLAGS

Teens don’t like hearing us talk about data or research, but we need to help them understand how harmful social media can be if not used appropriately and in moderation. It is our job to be on the lookout and to help our teens identify some of the red flags that may require them to take a break from an app or even delete an account. 

Some of these red flags include social media interfering with their sleep or daily routines and commitments, such as school, work, or extracurricular activities. If they start to choose social media over in-person social interactions or can’t limit their use and lie to spend more time online these are also red flags. Signs that they are struggling could be extreme moodiness or changes in behavior. One of the easiest ways parents can help is by making sure their teens are getting regular physical activity and all their devices are out of their room at night, and they aren’t going to bed watching reels or sending snaps. 

Ideally, we want our teens to get to a point where they are making good decisions around their technology and social media use. We want them to be aware of how it makes them feel and what purpose they are using it for. Regular conversations are a great way to help you stay informed and better understand your teen’s experiences. In the end, this is a far better approach than trying to ban them from joining.

Liz Farrell is the mother of three children and the founder of TechTalks, a consulting group to help schools and families have productive conversations around social media and technology. Email: [email protected].

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