Sometimes it may seem that every new study about social media tells us that it is bad for our kids. It leads to increases in depression and anxiety. It causes distraction and grades to fall. The temptation may be just to remove it. Take it away from your child. But realistically, social media is almost a mandatory part of the current generation's coming of age. The question for parents then, becomes: how can we support our teens in a social media world? How can we continue to parent them when they exist in a world seemingly without adults?
Start by considering how often social media is used in your home. Not just by your teen but by you (and any adults frequently around your teen). Do you model healthy social media behaviors? If you have difficulty putting down your phone or you have developed an entirely different online persona for yourself, it will be tough to convince your child that they should not be social media obsessed. Demonstrating healthy boundaries and cultivating real-life friendships provides[ teenagers with a model for a life that does not depend upon social media for validation.
In a similar vein, consider creating family-wide screen-free times - an hour a day or an evening a week or weekend per month. Choose a time frame that works for your family and allows everyone to unplug. Engage in activities that teens will enjoy.
Social media can increase stressful relationships with teens. It can strain friendships or contribute to fights between friends. Just as you would communicate with your child about their "in-real-life" friendships, make sure that you acknowledge virtual friendships as well. For example:
- Ask your teen about their friendships. They will likely cringe at the idea of sharing too many details with you, but it is vital that you make these conversations seem normal. If your child is secretive, there is likely a reason.
- Check in on their mood regularly and try to be open to listening to any problems they may be having with their friends.
If social media causes your teen stress, it may be tempting to ban them from using certain websites. This is likely to create distance between you and your child. So, use this punishment where appropriate – to keep them from harm or from neglecting responsibilities. Try not to threaten to take away social media access because your child's feelings get hurt from not being included or because they get into a fight with a friend.
It is more important in those instances to be a good listener and teach your child about issues in friendship than to try to shield them from every problem that exists on the internet. This is not to say you should continue to allow students to engage in harmful behavior. Just consider that, for teens, online relationships are genuine and social media is an important aspect of teen learning. They cannot be turned off by simply powering down a device.
Set ExpectationsMake sure that your expectations surrounding social media usage are clear. If you feel comfortable doing so, give your teens the opportunity to discuss expectations. They may even ask you to look out for certain things to keep them safe. Make sure that you explain that their overall development is your concern and that you want to work with them to make sure they have a healthy relationship with technology and social media.