Full disclosure: I’m not a TikTok user.
My husband will share social media videos of “Bunny” the internet-famous Sheepadoodle who uses assistive technology to “talk” to his owner. My teenage boys converse about the latest trending TikTok memes and dances. But when I’ve wondered aloud about jumping into this latest social media craze, I’m met with a resounding, “NO” from the other members of my household. Their biggest complaints? That it’s a huge time-suck, inadvertently pulling them into unending video feeds, and that they are often met with misinformation, requiring further research to uncover what’s “true.”
The debate about what, and how much, social media should be allowed in our households is a growing concern for many parents, advocates, and policymakers, who have expressed concerns regarding the potential harm associated with its use. While research regarding social media use by kids is mixed (influenced in large part by what individuals are consuming), experts are in agreement that special attention should be paid to helping our kids create a healthy relationship with their online world.
Helping Your Teen Create A Healthy Relationship With Social Media
In 2021, teens spent, on average, around three hours per day on social media. American adults aren’t much further behind, averaging two hours per day. (Note: You can easily compare your own numbers by looking at your phone’s screentime report in settings. I average 2 hours 19 minutes, mainly listening to podcasts, messaging, and playing Bejeweled).
Determining how much screen time to allot per day can be tricky. Many schools use technology such as Ipads or Chromebooks for coursework. And when technology facilitates social connectedness, pleasure, and learning it can be a net positive for development. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends creating “screen-free” times and zones. For example, no phones at the dinner table, or turning phones off an hour before bedtime.
De-weed Your Feed
As users of social media, we usually choose to follow accounts because they’re interesting to us. Maybe they’re just entertaining. Maybe they provide information and resources that we want to learn from. Or maybe they emulate something we aspire to be.
As an adult, it can be hard to decipher what’s real and what’s carefully cultivated (or completely false) on the internet. As a teen, who is developmentally just starting to explore who they are and what they want to be, it can be nearly impossible.
Encourage your teen to consider who and what they are following online and whether these images promote positive growth and emotional wellbeing. Help them to remove anything that doesn’t serve them. Watching six hours of makeup tutorial videos on YouTube will promote a different feeling than six hours of “Planet Earth.”
Check Your Sources
Social media can be an effective education tool— but it’s important to pay attention to the credibility of the source of that information. Make sure your teen is looking to credible sources. Help them to understand the difference between evidence-based, peer-reviewed literature, and “some guy on Insta.” When it comes to online news, for instance, one good practice is to confirm information with multiple sources. Education researchers refer to this practice as “lateral reading.” A strong practice of critical thinking habits, not only promotes open-mindedness but can counter the negative effects of online media and allow youth to reap the rewards offered by the internet while avoiding the drawbacks.
In this day and age, it would be difficult to find someone who isn’t connected on some sort of social media.
At the end of the day, we know that social media affects mental health and quality of life. Whether it’s a positive or negative impact is determined by how the platforms are used. Finding a balance and developing healthy habits for using social media is essential for making sure it’s a positive presence in your teen’s life.