Wondering if your kids should be on social media? Let’s start by examining what social media was designed for: marketing, entertainment and to keep our attention (i.e.be addictive). One thing it wasn’t created for? Kids.
As more and more kids and teens use social media for longer periods of time, we are seeing the negative consequences and are better understanding the effects that social media has on children who are exposed to it. And the research is showing that it’s not good for kids. Here are six reasons why:
Why isn’t social media good for kids?
1) Their brains aren’t fully developed.
Your child’s brain is not fully developed until age 25. No matter how much digital citizenship training you give a kid, his brain is impulsive, designed to live in the moment and crave low-effort, high-reward activities. Because the emotion center in the brain tends to develop before the reasoning center is complete, teens especially are all accelerator and no brakes. So, giving them access to something that is designed to be addictive (thanks to dopamine-driven feedback loops) and expecting their still-developing brains to self-limit is asking more than what they are physically capable of doing.
2) It’s very stressful.
Managing social media accounts is like taking care of a newborn baby. Remember that your teen is in the critical stage of figuring out her identity. She isn’t using social media to stay in touch with old friends like you may be. She is using it to create her brand and her image. The “baby” requires 24-hours-a-day care. And just like real-life babies, social media can be stressful, distracting and isolating as your child curates her image and worries about things like keeping Snapchat streaks alive even during vacations. In addition, your teen’s social brain can not manage more than a handful of relationships, surely not hundreds.
3) It makes them bored.
This may seem counter-intuitive, but social media and video games make your children very bored. The low-effort, high-reward activity of pings, updates, notifications, likes and comments kill your child’s imagination and creativity. They begin to find pleasure in electronic digital rewards instead of real-life experiences.
4) It makes them more depressed.
One in five kids have mental health and emotional issues today. Maintaining social media accounts causes them to focus on themselves and compare themselves to others—unhealthy behaviors during the most critical identity defining years of their lives. When your teen experiences loss of purpose triggered by social media overuse, their world begins to unravel.
5) They miss out on other experiences and activities.
The time they spend on the phone is replacing face-to-face and real-life interactions with parents and friends. No child has ever said, “Remember last Christmas when I was on social media the whole time?” Their devices are removing them from memory-making activities. These family-building activities are crucial for building strong emotional foundations.
6) Lost connections and attachments.
Every minute they are on social media, they aren’t attaching to you and other essential people in their lives. Parents often realize how important it is for young children to attach. But it’s critical to foster attachment during the teenage years as well. While peers are necessary, adults should remain the primary influence in your child’s life. Screen overuse with gaming and social media easily cause a shift from healthy parent attachments to unstable peer attachments. We must maintain the relationship with them and not allow them to isolate or detach from important relationships in their lives.
How can you reduce social media use?
The longer parents delay access, the more time a child will have to mature, so that he or she can use technology more wisely as a young adult. Delaying access also places a greater importance on developing personal authentic relationships first. Based on brain science, delaying social media through late adolescence is a good option.
Follow their accounts.
Social media privacy is a lie. Nothing is private in the digital world and so it should not be private to parents. Make sure privacy settings are in place, but know that those settings can give you a false sense of security. Most kids can figure out how to get around them. Encourage your teen to have private conversations in person or via a verbal phone call instead if they don’t want you to read it on social media.
Create family accounts.
Use family social media accounts instead of individual teen accounts. This allows kids to keep up with friends in a safer social media environment. Keep in mind, practicing social media does not make your teen more resilient to the temptations and pitfalls on social media, nor does it make them more mature.
Keep social media accounts off their phone.
Allow your teens to only use your family social media accounts on your phone or your home computers or laptops in plain view. Keeping it off their phone will minizine the distractions. The more secret the access, the more potential for bad choices.
Keep a sharp eye on the clock; they will not.
Do you know how much time your child spends on social media a day? Be aware of this, and reduce the amount of time your child is on social media across all platforms. The average teen spends nine hours a day online because of their phones. Access to a phone and social media 24/7 does not promote healthy balance. Instead, set one time each day for your child to check their social media, or a few times a week. Do they benefit from more time than that?
Plan face-to-face time with their friends.
Remember that they don’t need 842 friends; four-to-six close friends are enough for healthy social development. Help them learn how to plan real, in-person, social get-together, such as a leave-phones-at-the-door party, a home movie night, bowling, board games, cooking pizza or hosting a bonfire. They crave these social gatherings so encourage them to invite friends over and help them (as needed) to organize the event
Spend more real non-tech time together.
The science is clear. Teens who are strongly attached to their parents and family show more overall happiness and success in life. They need us when they are teens more than ever, but it is easy to detach from them especially when social media is constantly pulling them away. Maintaining close relationships with their family allows them to detach from social media drama and peer politics. Your child needs to feel like they can come home and leave the drama of their social world behind for a few hours. They want you to help them say no to social media and, yes, to more time with the family. Like a good coach, help your kids stay strong in our digital worlds.
Do you have more questions about teens and technology use? Take a look at our book “Can Your Teen Survive—and Thrive—Without a Smartphone?” It’s available on Amazon.
- Negative consequences of social media and kids: Jean M. Twenge, Thomas E. Joiner, Megan L. Rogers, and Gabrielle N. Martin. “Increases in Depressive Symptoms, Suicide-Related Outcomes,and Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents After 2010 and Links to Increased New Media Screen Time.” SAGE Journals, Association for Psychological Science. (Nov. 14, 2017.) Also see Twenge interview on CBS 60 Minutes: “Groundbreaking Study Examines Effects of Screen Time on Kids.” In this program, 60 Minutes goes inside a landmark government study of young minds to see if phones, tablets, and other screens are impacting adolescent brain development. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/boundless/201801/technology-designed-addiction
- 1:5 kids live with mental health issues: https://www.nami.org/About-NAMI/NAMI-News/2013/CDC-One-in-Five-Kids-Lives-with-a-Mental-Health-I
- Majority of kids think social media is a problem: https://qz.com/1367506/pew-research-teens-worried-they-spend-too-much-time-on-phones/
- Parent orientation more important than peer orientation: Gordon Neufeld, PhD, and Gabor Maté, MD. Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Matter More than Peers. (New York: Ballantine Books, 2014).
- In person community is more healthy than virtual community Pinker, Susan. The Village Effect: Why Face-to-Face Contact Matters. Atlantic Books, 2015.
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