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Managing Teens’ Social Media Use

Managing Teens’ Social Media Use

Warnings around teens and social media have grown, yet parents are left to fend for themselves when it comes to managing their family’s social media use. However, there are actions parents can take to support healthy social media practices.

Social media and the mental health crisis

“The idea of labeling social media as good or bad – is too broad of a way of looking at it,” said Yann Poncin, MD, Child Psychiatry, Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital (YNHCH) and Yale Child Study Center, who works with kids in high intensity services.

Dr. Poncin explains that “there are healthy and unhealthy ways to use social media. It is very individual, but what we worry about the most is the validation seeking and comparison traps. It isn’t natural to have access to the whole world’s highlight reels.”

Data suggests scrolling social media is not fully helpful or harmful and is typically a mix of both – making an outright ban impractical.

“We are not sufficiently educating people on the impact of social media use and how many apps are designed to manipulate,” said Marc Brackett, PhD, Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and professor in the Yale Child Study Center, who is part of a mental health coalition that provides resources for responsible social media use. 

A study in JAMA Pediatrics suggests that habitual use of social media can impact how the adolescent brain is wired since their brains are especially sensitive to social feedback. We don’t know the long term effect of this, but we do know that social media algorithms tend to lean into this reward system to encourage retention.

Parental controls for teen social media use

Today’s parents are first generation digital natives and are giving a lot of thought to how they will help their children be smart about social media.

Drs Brackett and Poncin share their top tips for responsible social media use:

  • Create sacred, phone free moments. Meal times and bedtime for example, are prime opportunities to have a no-phone-zone.
  • Increase activities that do not involve screens, such as outdoor sports
  • No full internet-access-smartphone until around eighth grade – as delayed phone use is linked with higher levels of wellness.
  • Talk to your child about fair compromises and boundaries around social media. Starting with stricter limits and loosening them over time tends to go smoother than vice versa.
  • Set up a system where your child requires permission before downloading new apps or making purchases.
  • Have a transparent monitoring plan where the child knows if/what you will be checking.

We can’t expect parents to be social media experts, but as much as technology has evolved – the foundations of relationships have not.

“Having a strong relationship with your child where you have open communication, discuss sensitive issues without judgement and have continuous conversations about what’s going on in your child’s life is going to have a greater impact than social media snooping,” said Dr. Brackett.