Keeping up with our teen’s social media usage can be overwhelming to think about and trying to monitor their electronic devices can be time-consuming and stressful. There are new apps popping up every day and there are even apps designed to hide other apps.
Most teens have multiple social media accounts and some even have a few different profiles on apps such as Instagram and Snapchat. Staying involved in their lives is important but checking their phone and online activity constantly can feel like a full time job.
An excess of social media exposure, five or more hours a day on an electronic device, has been shown to have negative effects on teen’s self-esteem and can possibly lead to depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts (Twenge, 2017). Our teens need our support, boundaries, and guidance even though at times they act like they do not want it or need it.
Here are some tips on how to put rules in place, navigate the ever-changing world of social media, and stay connected to your teen:
Come up with a plan and a contract for electronic device usage. Including your teen in the process of coming up with an agreement about cell phone and social media usage is a great way to help your teen be invested in the plan. Sit down together and talk about what you both think the rules should be. This could include things like discussing which apps they are allowed to download and have social media profiles on, when they are and are not allowed to be on their devices, and setting time limits for electronic devices. Make sure to write everything down in a contract format and both you and your teen should sign the contract.
In the electronic device contract, agreeing on what apps are allowed to be downloaded and used by your teen is important. A great website called Common Sense Media, (www.commonsensemedia.org), provides ratings on apps, video games, movies, television shows, etc. It is a helpful and reputable resource to use when deciding if something is appropriate for your teen to be viewing or using.
Once the plan has been made and the contract has been signed, make sure to stick to the rules of the contract. This will help there be consistency and sets clear expectations and boundaries for your teen. If they break a rule, there needs to be a consequence such as loss of that electronic device for a period of time, temporarily suspending their accounts on social media apps, or setting stricter time limits.
Consider downloading an app to monitor your teen’s electronic device and cell phone activity. Monitoring this occasionally is probably enough but if your teen is showing behaviors of concern such as signs of depression or anything out of character, it is helpful to be able to check on their activity. I do suggest letting your teen know that you have a monitoring product in place so that things are out in the open. Some recommended monitoring apps are:
Teen Safe (www.teensafe.com)
Circle with Disney (www.meetcircle.com)
Net Nanny (www.netnanny.com)
Make sure they get a break from technology. This could be when they get home from school and are doing homework. Many teens do their homework and simultaneously are scrolling through apps like Instagram or responding to texts from friends. Some teens even “face time” each other while they are working on homework. A break from their phone will likely help them focus on their work more and allow them to complete it more quickly. Another great time for a technology break is before bedtime. Studies have shown that having screen time 2 hours before bedtime can interfere with sleep (Yeagar, 2017). There is a blue light emitted from electronic devices that tend to make us more alert at night and makes it harder to fall asleep (Green, 2017). Many teens text each other in the middle of the night and this also interferes with their sleep. Sometimes it is shocking to see how many messages and social media notifications come through on their phones while they are sleeping. Removing their phones from their rooms at night gives them a better chance of getting quality sleep without being distracted by social media.
Keep an open dialogue with your teen about their lives and social media activity. It is important to follow their accounts on apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter to stay connected to their online social world as much as you can. This could be a part of the electronic device agreement and you can require that they allow you to follow all their social media accounts. It is also a great way to learn more about their friendships and how they express themselves.
Another important conversation to have with your teen regarding their electronic devices is to educate them on the risks involved. This could include not talking to people online that they do not know while playing video games. Sexting, making threats to others, or sending sexually inappropriate photos of themselves or their peers to other teens. There are laws in place regarding cyber-bullying, harassment, and being in possession of or distributing child pornography. This comes with real risks such as felony charges and possibly being labeled sex offenders for the rest of their lives. Most teens are not aware of these laws so it is important to make sure they know the risks involved with irresponsible behaviors on their devices.
Being there for our teens and helping them manage their electronic device usage is important for their overall health and well-being. Being involved and coming up with a technology plan together is a great way to set boundaries and expectations for how and when they use social media.
If you have any questions about how to set up a technology agreement feel free to contact me at Nicole@artitout.com to schedule a consultation.
Written by Nicole Wood, MA, LPC, NCC