At Teen Lifeline, we are frequently asked by parents whether social media is good or bad for kids. The answer, unfortunately, is not an easy yes or no because social media has both positive and negative consequences.
For kids who have grown up with social media, the platforms serve as an extension of their identities and how they express themselves.
Social media also provides an important source of connection to others and can help friends and family members who live far apart stay connected.
However, there are significant downsides to social media. Connecting with people far away and through a screen cannot replace close, personal communication. We all need friends and a support system of people who live close by and with whom we can do things in person.
Time spent on social media sites, especially by children and younger teens, has been linked to an increase in mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and body image concerns, according to the American Psychological Association.
Establishing Healthy Social Media Habits
How can we help our teens, and ourselves, develop healthy social media habits and minimize the harm social media might cause?
- Set time limits. Encourage teens to set reasonable limits to the amount of time they spend on social media each day. Most social media platforms have features you can set up that monitor how long you’ve been scrolling and remind you to take a break.
You may need to help your child identify other ways to spend their time once they’ve hit their limit or notice social media is having a negative impact on their mental health. Help them brainstorm ideas of things to do, like going for a walk, playing a game, reading a book or participating in another activity they enjoy.
- Put phones away at bedtime. Ask your kids to charge their phones outside of their rooms, so they aren’t tempted to check social media when they should be sleeping. For those who use their phone for an alarm, have them pick out a new alarm clock for their room.
- Encourage teens to curate their social media feeds. Liking, commenting on and sharing posts tells social media algorithms to give you more of that type of content. Encourage your child to like and engage with sources that have a positive impact on their life.
Remind your child it’s okay to block or unfollow people and accounts that have a negative impact on how they feel. However, be aware that there can be social consequences for unfollowing someone. Teach your kids how to “Restrict” or “Mute” people on social media so they can avoid that person’s posts without it being obvious.
- Remind kids that you only see other people’s highlight reels on social media. Teens can take dozens of photos of themselves before selecting the perfect one, with the right filter, to come across looking flawless. Sometimes your child needs a reminder that everyone else on social media is doing that, too.
One thing to remember: many of our kids’ lives are so entrenched in social media that it can be devastating when parents take it away. It is also how they stay connected to friends and family. That’s why we typically recommend taking a teen’s phone away be done sparingly and not as the first, go-to form of discipline a parent uses.
Nikki Kontz, LMSW, is the clinical director at Teen Lifeline, a Phoenix-based, nonprofit dedicated to preventing teen suicide through increasing connection and resilience among Arizona’s teens.
If you know a tween or teen who is considering suicide or who needs mental health help, encourage them to call Teen Lifeline 24/7/365 at (602) 248-TEEN (8336). Texting is available between noon and 9 p.m. on weekdays and from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends.