Dr. Nicole Beurkens
It’s no secret that social media has become a significant part of life for the vast majority of adults and teens. From social communication, to politics and world events, and certainly as a source of entertainment, social media use continues to increase in young people. In fact, 95% of teens in the U.S. have access to a smartphone, while over 85% of the same group uses social media on a regular basis.
While the negative effects of social media on children and teens are well-explored, there are also plenty of benefits for our kids too. Healthy social media use can give teens valuable opportunities for socialization, learning, and support that can be beneficial for all aspects of their lives. The key is to incorporate these platforms thoughtfully, so that teens can learn to use social media in a healthy way.
Are there benefits of social media for kids?
In many ways, social media lives up to its aspirations of providing people with a platform where they can interact positively with each other and share their life experiences. Teenagers have made great use of social media apps for staying in touch with each other outside of school and sharing fun or educational content.
Social media can give our kids a great tool for communicating with new friends and staying current and involved in each others’ lives. It can also be a fantastic way for teens to practice their communication skills and become more confident when interacting with others in real life.
In fact, research shows that healthy social media use may be an effective way to promote education and mental wellbeing in teenagers. Aside from many of these more general benefits, healthy social media use can be extremely beneficial for more specific reasons too
1. Seeking a community
Social media is a great way to find groups specific to many interests, issues, and needs. They can find other like-minded individuals to discuss hobbies, shared issues, and more. This can be super helpful especially for children who might otherwise feel marginalized or alone, where social media provides a safe space for them to interact with others like them and helps them realize that there are lots of other young people with similar characteristics, challenges, and needs.
2. Building a platform
Some kids are hard at work developing their talents and working toward their passions, and social media can be a fantastic way for them to share their work with others. For example, teens can post their artwork on social media to gain recognition and even work towards potential sales. This can also be a great way for young adults to expand their network and get in touch with established members of their field, which is particularly exciting for aspiring scientists and creatives!
3. Doing good
Perhaps more than anything else, social media is teaching our kids that their voices can be heard and that they can make a difference in the world. Apps like Instagram and Twitter can be effective ways to raise awareness about current global issues and even make a tangible impact on issues like deforestation, hunger, and more through donations, petitions, and rallies. Our kids can gain valuable knowledge about being responsible citizens and kind, global-minded humans through many of these channels.
How to help children use social media in a healthy way
With so many established positive and negative aspects of social media, it’s important to create a strategy which allows our kids to get the most benefit from social media without experiencing negative effects as well. One study analyzed many of the pros and cons of social media use to develop a better understanding of how we as parents can help our kids develop healthy social media habits.
Here are a few of the ideas from this research, as well as several of my own favorite ways to make sure our kids stay healthy and safe on social media:
1. Follow a variety of accounts
Following lots of different accounts allows us to get a better representation of different people, ideas, places, and more. In the current day and age, it’s more important than ever to consider issues and ideas from multiple points of view in order to get the full story.
It’s a great idea to talk with your child about the importance of seeking information from multiple sources before drawing conclusions, and this is a perfect way to practice.
2. Be mindful
One way we can make sure our social media use is healthy is to pause every once in a while and think about how we feel while we scroll. If your child often feels sad, upset, or angry while they use social media, maybe it’s time to make adjustments to their routine, take a break, or do something else for a while.
Tuning into the way our bodies and minds feel is a fantastic way to develop healthy habits that leave us feeling good. Talk with them about this periodically to guide their tuning-in and consideration of how their social media use is actually making them feel.
3. Set up device-free times
Just like everything else, social media is best used in moderation. Setting up times during the day where your kids won’t use their electronics is an effective way to encourage them to find other activities to participate in and moderate their device usage.
For example, you might make the dinner table a device-free zone so that you and your kids can enjoy each other’s company during mealtimes rather than sitting in your own social media bubbles. This helps ensure your child is getting ample communication and relationship practice in real life, and not just on a device.
4. Maintain a positive social media feed
If your child is constantly viewing content that makes them feel bad, it’s time to unfollow some accounts. The comparison-trap, trolling and bullying, and other problematic issues on social media can be very real – especially for young people.
Make sure that they work to cultivate positivity in the types of accounts and posts that they see when they log on. This doesn’t mean that they’ll never see disappointing news or posts that they don’t like, but it will help to reinforce social media’s positive impact and make their use of it a more health-supportive experience.
5. Implement digital wellbeing tools
Especially for kids struggling to manage their social media use on their own, parental control apps can be a necessary part of establishing healthy boundaries. A tool like Qustodio is super helpful for setting time limits and filters on apps so that you can help your child manage their social media use more effectively. It’s what I use with my own children, and recommend to all families at my clinic.
What to do if you think your child is overusing or misusing social media
If you think that your child might be engaging in unhealthy social media habits, the best thing to do is have a direct and loving conversation with them about your observations and concerns. Discussing these with them in a calm and focused way can help them better understand what makes their habits unhealthy, and how they can be more responsible with their electronics overall.
If needed, you can work together to create a plan for their social media use by implementing many of the ideas above, arranging time for in-person activities, or using screen time limits for social media apps. Whichever strategy you choose, make sure that you work together with your child.
The process will help them become more responsible in all aspects of their life, and can help them learn how to manage their time in a healthy way. Plus, they are much more likely to follow a plan they helped create.
Remember: you and your child are on the same team with the same goal of helping them develop healthy habits in all areas of their life. Supporting teens in leveraging the benefits of social media, while minimizing the down sides, helps ensure better mental health now and as they grow.