Is Your Kid’s Social Media Usage Out of Control? Do You Worry It May Be?
In 2012, Jean Twenge, a psychologist whose primary research is in generational differentiation, noticed a seismic shift in teen behavior and emotional states. Rates of teenage depression and suicide had skyrocketed.
It is no coincidence that this is the same year when the proportion of Americans owning a cell phone surpassed 50 percent – and the generation now known as the iGen was born.
It’s no surprise how pervasive social media is for modern teens, but just how much damage is its excessive use causing our kids?
According to the new A&E documentary “Undercover High,” the answer is alarming.
The show follows seven young adults, ages 21 to 26, posing as students at a Kansas high school. In the first episode, the issues staff have in dealing with students and their cell-phone related problems, particularly during class time, are alarming.
Teachers struggle with getting students to put their phones away, and many teens are texting or posting bullying or negative comments while the class is in session!
This is scary stuff.
One thing is certain, neither parents, teachers, nor school administrators fully understand how to keep a pulse on the teens when most of the drama appears on an inaccessible screen.
Unfortunately for moms and dads, merely saying: “I won’t give my child a smartphone or let them have social media accounts” is no longer a rational answer.
Many high school students need web-enabled devices to complete or access coursework. Parents can better communicate with their children when away from home. Kids can feel isolated from their peers without a phone since teens often make plans via texting or social media.
And we all know that if a teen truly wants to do something, he or she is going to try to figure it out on their own. Making social media a forbidden fruit never works out.
This doesn’t mean parents can’t impact their child’s use of their smartphones and social media, however.
Here are a few “rules” I suggest.
Phone off at 10.
No exceptions. And better yet, no phone before bed. A major cause of teenage depression is the lack of sleep our teens get. A huge reason for this is smartphones. Not only does the light cause our kids’ brains to stay awake, but many studies suggest scrolling social media before bed can increase anxiety and depressive thoughts. Ensure your teen charges their phone in a room other than their bedroom, and in extreme circumstances, shut the home WiFi off at a specific, pre-determined time.
Many teens are addicted to their phones, and FOMO (fear of missing out) is a real issue for them. Enforce certain days/times when they must put their phones down for a few hours (which means you too, Mom & Dad). Movie night, trips to Starbucks, shopping, baking, family dinners, and studying can and should be done without a phone in hand. While you may hear some initial complaining, these “phone breaks” are a great way to show your teen can survive without their phone or checking social media.
Get the log-ins.
Many parents often struggle with the moral issue of spying on their kids, which is why I suggest not doing it. Openly tell them you will regularly check their social media accounts. First, social media is not meant to be private. I akin every post to standing up in the lunch room and shouting your message out to the entire student body. Second, possessing the logins is the same as wearing a seat belt in an automobile. Just like the seat belt is a layer of protection from an automobile crash, accessing social media protects teens online. Also, make sure you stringently enforce the rules and enact stiff penalties for breaking them.
Privacy means different things to everyone. Unfortunately, the part of the brain that manages impulse control is not fully formed until our twenties. That means even your BFF can have poor judgment or make the mistake of forwarding a private text or photo merely by hitting the wrong button. My mantra is if you don’t want your grandmother to know about it, don’t post it on social media. Make sure your teen knows that their “friends” list will not adhere to the same standards of discretion about your life as you expect, particularly when hitting the forward key is so simple.
This also means never giving out private information if a stranger could obtain that content.
Sign a contract.
There can be no arguing about the rules if they are in black and white. Here’s our version of a Cell Phone Contract. You may need to amend this for the older user, but it is a great discussion starter and starting point: Cell Phone Contract For Your Tween or Teen.
Be intentional (and kind).
Kids are no dummies. With their lives constantly on display, it’s a challenge for even well-intentioned tweens or teens to avoid making others feel excluded. Encourage your child not to lie or make excuses to one friend and then do something else with another, especially when you may later post photos of that encounter online. It’s always better to be honest and say, “I have plans,” than to lie and say, “My mom won’t let me,” and take the risk of getting caught.
Recent studies also show the immense pressure young girls have to send sexually provocative photos. Discuss this issue with your daughters and sons so they better understand the legal and social ramifications these pictures can cause. Explain that once something is sent out on social media, it NEVER goes away. People screenshot and share the dark web scrapes for these images and use them on pornographic sites all over the world.
It’s really hard for parents to know where to draw the line, and damaging our relationship with our kids is a real possibility if we don’t work on this together. By talking with our kids about the boundaries, dangers, and expectations through the eye-rolls and crossed arms, we build a conversation that we can return to as we need it.