How do you know if your child is struggling with social media misuse or the negative mental health impacts social media can cause?
Look for these warning signs, especially ones that persist for several days:
Losing track of time
Children may minimize or lie about the amount of time they are on social media. Compare the time your child thinks they spend online to the time they really spend online.
Has social media become more important than other activities? Notice if your child is distracted during offline activities and can’t wait to check in with their social media accounts.
When social media takes on outsized importance, kids spend less time connecting with friends and family face-to-face. Look out for decreased “in real life” socializing.
Kids may get defensive when asked about the time they spend on social media, and what they do there. Being always on or focused too much on the rewards of social media can make kids’ brains tired.
Keep an eye out for drops in sleep and physical activity. Notice changes in eating patterns or an increased focus on appearance.
Impact on offline activities
Tune in to negative changes to family and school responsibilities.
Help your child rebalance
If you’re seeing multiple warning signs or a sign persists over time, try these strategies to help your child rebalance their social media use:
- Check your own social media use. Remember, your children learn by watching you. Modeling healthy behaviors is important.
- Bring up your concerns in a caring way. We have conversation starters to help you have a conversation if you’re concerned about your child’s mental health, and there are some conversation starters specifically about social media.
- Revisit your family social media plan.
- Consider a social media or online “diet” – taking away devices for a certain period of time.
- Encourage real-life meet-ups with peers.
- Increase offline family time.
- Find more opportunities for physical activity.
Just like there are limits around bedtimes or how many sweets your kids can eat, it’s healthy to have boundaries around social media use as well. Some boundaries could include:
- Having regular check ins – Having a few minutes each week when you talk with your child about what they’re seeing/doing on social media can help you spot problems faster and respond to issues before they grow.
- Protecting sleep – No screens for at least an hour before bedtime. No phones allowed in bedrooms.
- Including physical activity – Making sure your child is active every day not only helps them sleep at night, but it also improves physical and mental health!
- Taking breaks – Agree on a plan for when your child is allowed to use technology and when they’re not. We have help for how to get started with a family social media plan!
- Prioritizing in-person activities – If possible, prioritize activities like sports and clubs that happen in person.
- Earning screen time/social media time – Pair screen time/social media with a task they don’t like to do (such as chores or exercise). After they complete the challenging task they can earn time on screens/social media. For example, after you’ve exercised for 30 minutes, you can have 60 minutes of screen time.
If your child isn’t following the social media plan or isn’t working with your boundaries, there has to be a consequence.
Plan ahead of time for what the consequence will be and talk about it with your child. For example, if they are on social media longer than was agreed to, they will lose their phone for a week.
It’s not fair!
No matter how carefully you approach talking to your kids, discussing social media privacy and working together on a plan, they may still insist that their friends don’t have any limits on social media, have different/better devices than they have and they may beg for access to platforms you’re not comfortable with.
What can you do?
Boundaries are safe and effective. You can remind your child that when they play games or sports, there are rules. Some of the rules are clear and obvious. Sometimes the rules seem restrictive but keep the players safe. You are working to keep them as safe as possible on social media.
Take care of yourself. It’s hard when a child is pushing against your rules constantly. Take time with friends, relax in ways that give you energy, or practice other forms of self-care.
Give yourself a break. This is hard work! While it may not seem like, many parents struggle with their children’s screen time and social media use. It’s okay to make mistakes.
As you and your family work through these issues, you’ll grow your understanding of what type and amount of social media is okay for each of your kids.