In This Together

In This Together

How to encourage your teen to use social media in a positive way and lower the risk of it having a negative impact on their mental health

Like it or not, social media is playing an increasingly significant role in our teenagers’ lives. At the same time, as parents and educators, we are constantly hearing about the perils of social media and its negative impact on the emotional and physical health of our youth. Many of you may have already witnessed in your daughter the powerful emotions of jealousy, anxiety, alienation, or inadequacy because of FOMO (fear of missing out) and comparing herself to other people online; this can be triggered by excessive use of social media.

Given the online world and social media are important to our teens and to their friendships, the best gift we can give our teens is to show them, through our own use too, a mindful balancing act.

If we want them to engage in conversations with us about the negative impacts of social media, then we will better gain their trust, respect and attention if we also acknowledge its importance in their lives.

It also helps to acknowledge that, when used moderately and mindfully, social media can have positive benefits and can even boost our sense of wellbeing. By seeking to understand our teen’s experience of social media, and even recognising some of the positive aspects of it, we are more likely to have more meaningful conversations with them about how they can best manage their use of it, and they are more likely to come to us when things go wrong.

Below are some tips for ways you could help your teen to increase the positive impact, as well as lower the risk, of social media use.

Curate your feed: We often worry about how much time our teens are spending online, but it also pays to be mindful of what you expose yourself to. Increasing exposure to harmful content, cyber bullying, and the pressure to portray a perfect life or body can be problematic, particularly for young people. Body image is a big issue for teens and when they are flooded with images of perfect-looking bodies, they can feel overwhelmed. Talk to your teen about being mindful of the type of content they consume. Chatting with them about content that triggers feelings of anxiety or inadequacy versus content that leaves them feeling uplifted, inspired, or informed can be a far more productive conversation than simply complaining about how much time they spend on their phones. Even better, find opportunities to talk to them about following people who aren’t afraid to be themselves. Conversations about who they follow and what they like about them, and who isn’t afraid to post without filters, etc, can go a long way to getting your teen to think about the online world.

Model your own mindful use of social media: Although young people are the most prolific users of social media, concerns about its potential impact on mental health apply to everyone. According to a recent survey by ReachOut, one in three parents are spending between one to five hours on social media every day.

Report and block bullies: On a more positive note, the ReachOut survey also indicated that cyber-security campaigns are working, with 86% of parents saying they’re having conversations with their teens about social media use, including topics such as cyberbullying, protecting personal information and acceptable online behaviour. However, our teens need constant reminding about this.

Keep apps out of sight, so they’re out of mind: Try moving your apps away from the home screen and into folders to avoid mindless overindulging. Encourage your teens to take charge of using an app when they consciously decide to, rather than because the psychology behind the features of the app is designed to constantly get them to check it.

Apply designated time limits to social media use: If losing time to social media use is a problem for you or your teen, try giving yourself a regular time for checking social media (e.g between 6pm and 8pm on certain days, etc).

Turn off notifications for specific apps in your settings, so you’re not constantly tempted to open apps or get sucked into a social media vortex when you are doing other things. Alternatively, you can turn off data or switch your phone to airplane mode.

Set aside time for non-screen time hobbies: There are plenty of hours in a day and week, so pick a screen-free hobby and commit to spending a specific time on it. It could be a yoga class or practising your guitar, but it could also be reading a book or walking a dog – anything that will be a solid break from your screen. During your hobby time, switch your phone to Do Not Disturb mode or turn it off, so you’re not distracted.

Apps that help manage our use of screen time: If you need help to reduce your time spent on apps, ironically there are apps to help you with this:

  • Forest allows you to set a period when you commit to not using your phone. During that time, a digital plant will grow in the app. If you use your phone at this time, Forest sends you a notification to get off the app or your plant will die.
  • Daywise lets you schedule times for receiving notifications, so that they’re not constantly distracting you.
  • The Do Not Disturb feature on the iPhone silences all calls and notifications when the phone is locked.
  • On Instagram, under “Your activity” in account settings, you can see how much time you spend daily using the app. To reduce your usage, set a daily reminder that notifies you when you’ve reached the amount of time you’ve decided to spend on the app.
  • In Settings on iPhone, you can turn on “Screen Time”, which will give you reports on your phone usage and allow you to set limits on your use.

Protect your sleep and socialising time: Leave your phone outside the bedroom and turn your phone off during dinner. Sharing your bed with a bright shiny phone is a guaranteed way to interrupt your sleep. Likewise, placing your phone on the dinner table, or table at a restaurant is a sure way to be distracted from properly connecting with our significant others.

We can do a lot to manage the impact that social media has on our own health. Spending time doing stuff we love away from social media, unfollowing accounts that aren’t making us feel good, and investing our time in looking at positive content – it all helps.


Philippa Gibson
SCEGGS School Counsellor