10 Essential Tips for Ensuring Your Teen’s Safe Social Media Use: Expert Advice Inside

Social media is now very easy to use, and most teenagers in North America are on it every day. Social media companies aim their ads at teens, which has led to more young people using these platforms and getting their first phones or tablets at younger ages.

Social media can help teens connect and talk with their friends. However, there are some risks that come with young people using social media.

For example, the part of the brain that helps us control our impulses doesn’t fully develop until our mid-20s. This makes it hard for teens to limit their screen time, and they often spend a lot of time scrolling on social media (American Psychological Association, 2023a).

Be careful when young people use social media

In 2023, the U.S. Surgeon General warned that kids and teens who use social media for over three hours a day are more likely to have mental health problems like anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Here’s discuss how social media affects mental health:

  • Brain Growth and Development: The excitement of connecting with friends is tied to brain changes that happen between ages 10 and 12, which is when many kids get their first devices. Since their ability to control impulses isn’t fully developed, it’s hard for them to manage their time on social media and balance it with real-life interactions with friends and family.
  • Peer Influence and Social Feedback: Things like “likes,” comments, and notifications on social media can strongly affect young people. The feedback they get, whether good or bad, can impact their mental health and increase anxiety and depression symptoms.
  • Self-Esteem and Body Image: Peer influence online can greatly affect how young people see themselves. With access to many profiles and content, kids often compare themselves to others, which can harm their self-esteem and body image. 

Psychologist Anita Federici says there’s a strong link between more social media use and increased body dissatisfaction and emotional problems in young people. Weight-related memes, comments, and pressures from the diet industry are common. Kids and teens may struggle to tell the difference between harmful diet culture and healthy information online.

  • Inappropriate and Harmful Content: Spending a lot of time on social media can expose kids to negative content like discrimination, racism, homophobia, sexual content, and cyberbullying. Research shows that seeing this kind of content can increase anxiety and depression symptoms in young people.

Here’s what families can do to help their kids use social media safely

The American Psychological Association (2023a) suggests several ways parents can help their children use social media safely:

  1.  Keep track of your child’s social media use and talk about it with them; answer their questions honestly.
  1. Have age-appropriate and supportive discussions about online content.
  1. Show your child healthy social media habits; teach them to tell what’s real and what’s not by explaining how social media works.
  1.  Watch for any signs of unhealthy usage.

Cutting down on social media can also be good. Research by Smith and Mills (2024) found that taking just a week-long break can greatly improve mental health and self-esteem in young people, especially young women.

Lisa Damour, a psychologist who has written many books on teen development (her latest is The Emotional Lives of Teenagers), has talked a lot about how social media affects teens.

Social media can be helpful, acting as a “lifeline for young people who have trouble making friends locally,” but Damour also emphasizes the need to teach teens about the algorithms that control what they see and suggests waiting until they are older before they start using social media. It’s important to help kids learn to recognize what content is appropriate and what isn’t, using family values as a guide.

The American Psychological Association (2023b) notes that kids and teens grow in stages and not always in a straight line. Because of this, online activities should match their level of development. Parents need to keep communication open and watch over their child’s social media use. The key is to adjust social media use and permissions to fit the child’s developmental stage, ensuring they have healthy and safe interactions both online and offline.

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