How much social media is too much for a teen?

Let’s face it — we all like to be liked. This is precisely what makes social media so addictive. The more likes we get, the better we feel. The better we feel, the more likes we want! But when does worrying about “likes” become worrisome?

In discussing this issue with several mothers of teens, I discovered that this is a real struggle for parents. One mom described her teen’s social media use as “her life.” Her daughter deletes a photo she posts if it doesn’t get enough likes and becomes very distraught if she loses her phone privileges.

“You can’t permanently take their phones away — what teen doesn’t have a phone,” Stacy said.

Another mom discovered that her 12-year-old daughter was regularly receiving text messages, Instagram notifications and Snapchats at 1, 2, even 3 a.m. from many other friends her age.

“Not one friend, one random time. Trust me when I tell you she gets these midnight messages from multiple friends, every single night,” said Lisa, teacher and mom of two daughters.

Studies show that teens are growing up with more anxiety and less self-esteem due to their excessive use of social media and texting.

“If kids aren’t getting enough practice relating to people … in person and in real time, many of them will grow up to be adults who are anxious about our species’ primary means of communication — talking,” said Catherine Steiner-Adair, Ed.D., clinical psychologist and author of “The Big Disconnect. “Furthermore, teens’ self-esteem is affected by the pressure to live up to the standards set on social media.”

How do you limit something that is integral to your teen’s identity?

Both moms agree that learning how to self-regulate and handle 24/7 access to the internet is a very important part of growing up, and it’s the parents’ job to make sure children learn this skill.

“We take our daughter’s phone away each night at 9 p.m. and plug it in to charge in the kitchen, far away from her bedroom,” Lisa said. “She often complains, but I remind her she’s always welcome to read a book. Inevitably, within a few minutes of having the phone removed from her grasp, she is fast asleep — as she should be.”

These moms involve their kids in activities they enjoy — dance and cheer. Experts recommend just that: Find activities kids and teens like to occupy their time, rather than allowing too much free time, when social media becomes the easy answer to boredom.

It’s also critical that parents act as role models when it comes to social media and screen time usage. If children see their parents’ heads buried in their phones and tablets, we can’t expect them to limit their consumption.

Remember, teens spend on average 9 hours or more using media — listening to music, checking social media apps, texting, watching movies or playing digital games. As parents, it is our responsibility to monitor this usage, set goals toward two hours or less of screen time per day, encourage tech-free zones in the home, and talk to kids about the content they are exposed to online.

“I ask my daughter each day, ‘What’s going on in your social media world today?’” Stacy said. This is her way of connecting with her teen and monitoring what’s going on online.

Learn more about how social media affects teens here.


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