How can you make social media good for your teen?

Many of you may have seen the report two weeks ago, and it was pretty damning: According to their own research, Facebook became aware that Instagram is bad for the mental health of their teenage users – and particularly teenage girls – and has done nothing about it. Facebook has denied that this is the case, but the allegation certainly lines up with other research, which has shown that Instagram may be the worst social network when it comes to self-esteem, body image, and mental health.

None of this should shock anyone who pays attention to the interaction of social networking and mental illness. Indeed, research has shown that Instagram negatively impacts depression, anxiety, self esteem, bullying, body image, and more. No one who has paid attention to these areas should be surprised by this. 

I type this one as someone who pays attention both to mental health and as a parent of a ten and eight year old who have their own “phones” (old hand-me-downs that only work in the house). My kids use Facebook messenger, and my wife and I obviously stay on top of it, managing who they talk to and how often they use their phones. That won’t be that way forever though. One day, they are gonna have Instagram and Facebook profile and who knows what else. Social media is far too ingrained in our society for banning our kids to be an option. I don’t think that’s realistic.

But…what can parents do? How can we manage our kid social media use and try to start the conversation early?

A few thoughts.

Start the conversation about what social media really is when they are young

If your kids are like mine, odds are that they have seen you use social media at some point, or at least seen you scrolling through your phone and make a post. As soon as they can comprehend it, explain what social media is, but do so honestly: Explain its benefits, the reasons you use it – but also its downfalls. Set that stage early: Tell your kids that people use social media to post a polished, curated version of your life. This helps them understand what social media is, and what it isn’t.

As an aside, don’t use social media that way. Show your flaws, warts and all. People appreciate a real version of you much more than an air-brushed one.

And, one more aside: When your kids get old enough, ask their permission before making a post with them in it. I always do.

Create expectations of parental engagement

Make sure that your kids know – particularly when they are young – that you will have access to their social media and to what they use it for. When they are really little, you may have access to their conversations or the media that they send to each other (I have that for my kids who use Messenger). Obviously, you respect their privacy more and more as they get older but make sure your kids know that you will watch their social media use – and provide guidance/answer questions accordingly. Don’t do it from a “big brother” perspective. Do it from the perspective of making sure you can provide guidance and answer important questions for your kids. 

Encourage real world relationships

Look, social media is great and all, but at the end of the day, all of us – our kids and ourselves – need to get the hell outside. Encourage your kids to look at social media for what it should be: A supplement to their real-world activities. A compliment. Not a substitution. Don’t let them just stare at their phones. Make them get out and interact in the real world. 

Talk about their feelings and encourage them to think about them

Social media use may be inevitable, but healthy social media use is still possible. Encourage your kids to be emotionally reflective as they use social media. Ask them how their social media use makes them feel, and have them challenge themselves about why they feel a certain way, while also being open to having a conversation with them about their feelings. This encourages self-reflection, and if approached right, may encourage a teen to moderate their own behavior or relationships. FOMO – fear of missing out – can be defeated with a conversation. Fear of not looking a certain way on Instagram can be knocked down by a reminder about filters. 

Anyway, those are my thoughts – as always, I defer to you! What am I missing? What else should we be talking about with our kids? Let me know in the comments!

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