Social media has become an integral part of our lives, both for parents and teens. It can be an excellent tool for connecting and keeping in touch with loved ones - but what effect does it have on our mental health? A study conducted by the Mayo Clinic estimated that spending more than three hours a day on social media might increase mental health problems in 12 to 15-year-olds in the U.S.
Whatever your opinion of social media, it certainly isn’t going away any time soon. It can seem difficult to know how to keep kids safe and healthy in a digital world, but there are steps you can take when considering how to handle social media and talk about it as a family. Here are five tips to consider as you
1. Take a proactive role and talk about comparison
Any kid who is prone to concerns about their self-image and who they are or is anxious about fitting in or what other people think about them will inevitably compare themselves to the number of likes, friends, or followers other people have when they go online. They are looking at these sites through a negative lens of, “I’m never going to be as good as these people.” That mindset puts them at risk of increasing depression and isolation.
Be sure to take time to talk about how each of us is worthy and important, and that the validation seen on social media isn’t a real lens into someone’s life. Social media can be curated, but building self-confidence and friends who will be there for you digitally and otherwise is authentic and can help boost anyone’s mental health.
2. Set social media boundaries
When social media interferes with activities like school, meals, sleep, or relationships, it’s time to encourage reasonable limits. Setting certain time limitations or talking about ways to turn off from the digital world are key to setting healthy limits to social media exposure - for everyone in the family!
Some easy ways to start setting these boundaries can include turning off electronics before bedtime, setting an example by having whole-family ‘no-phone’ times and having certain areas of the house be the only place you can use certain electronic devices.
3. Discuss what is and isn’t OK
Safety online is a major discussion point you may have already addressed with your child, but it’s also important to talk about their own behavior and how it affects others as well. Being kind and considerate online and avoiding spreading rumors or bullying someone are crucial reminders - getting carried away online is easy to do.
Be sure to also talk about the things that are safe to share on social media, and what should remain private no matter what. By talking about the importance of what’s appropriate online, you’ll be helping your child avoid getting hurt or giving hurt on social media.
4. Encourage hangouts with friends offline
The world of our phones can seem like reality, when in fact there’s so much that isn’t ‘real’ in the social mediascape. While developing and growing friendships online can be a wonderful aspect of social media when done mindfully, there’s nothing that can replace the face-to-face connection with a friend. Allowing space and time for your teen to hang out with friends outside of the chatroom is a great way to keep their mind on what’s important and take a break from the internet and just be a kid.
5. Be open to talking without ridicule
It’s natural to feel an immediate reaction when your child brings up something that happened online that hurt them in some way or made them feel uncomfortable or nervous. To keep conversations surrounding difficult topics, it’s important to remember that if your child is bringing up a topic with you, it’s because they’re struggling and trust you to help, and maintaining that trust is crucial for them to feel safe to bring up other situations in future situations. Listen, respond, and help guide your child as much as you can.
When used well, social media can help kids connect in the real world, whether it’s meeting up with like-minded kids, advancing their education, or engaging in healthy interests like art, music, or cooking classes. The important part is maintaining open conversations and encouraging safe internet practices with your family.