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  • Writer's pictureDr. Rachel Kramer

January 29: Talking with Tweens and Teens About Social Media

Updated: Feb 20

Recently, I was asked to give a presentation about middle school students and social media. I spent a chunk of last weekend reading articles and digging into the research, and last week I spoke with two different groups about this complex and very important topic. In today’s newsletter, I’m going to share some of the guidelines that I talked about in my presentation. This information represents a small part of what adults caring for children need to know about tweens, teens, and social media, but I’m hopeful that this information will help you identify strategies that you can put to use right away.

 

When researchers ask children what they like about social media, their primary responses have to do with social connection. Overall, when parents are considering rules and guidelines for their children’s social media use, it’s helpful to think about balancing the goal of supporting social connection with the goal of minimizing the risks inherit in social media exposure. A helpful approach to take is to allow your child just enough digital technology that they can maintain their friendships.

 

If you’ve been reading these newsletters for a while, you know that I endorse an approach to parenting that combines close connection and a focus on relationship with clear structure and boundaries. Preliminary research indicates that this combination of connection and limits produces the best outcomes when parenting around the topic of social media. Specifically, the best outcomes for children occur when parents balance discussion and coaching about social media with clear limits and boundaries.

 

A few things to consider:

  • Set aside regular one-on-one time with each of your children so that you can discuss a wide variety of topics. If your child shares a problem or tricky situation that a friend or classmate had on social media, this provides an ideal time to have a conversation about the risks and benefits of social media within the safer space of talking about a third-party rather than asking your child to talk directly about themselves.

  • Whether in individual conversations or in group discussions involving your whole family, talk openly with your children about your family’s values, media literacy, digital citizenship, and bullying.

  • Resist the temptation to vilify social media. The majority of tweens and teens surveyed identify many benefits of social media, including increased social connection and opportunities for creativity. If adults approach conversations about social media by focusing solely on the risks, children will quickly lose interest as the message conveyed is that adults simply don’t understand a child’s perspective.

  • Approach the topic of social media with curiosity. Whether your child is already using an app or if they are requesting permission to download a new app, ask them to tell you or show you what they like about that particular app. Consider asking questions such as:

    • What do you like about this app? Why is it appealing to you?

    • How is this app different than texting or than using other apps that you already have?

    • We both know that sometimes kids get into tricky situations on social media. Have you heard about any tough situations people have had using this app?

    • Do you think there are any potential downsides?

  • Whenever possible, take a collaborative problem-solving approach to discussing issues around social media with your child. That is, identify a problem that you see and ask your child to work with you as a team to come up with solutions to the problem. For example:

    • “I know you’d like to get Snapchat. What ideas do you have about how you can balance using social media and doing other things that are good for your brain and your body?”

    • “I want you to stay connected to your friends, but I feel as though you’re spending a lot of time on your phone lately. I want to be sure that you’re balancing online activities and offline activities. Let’s brainstorm together and come up with some strategies.”

 

This topic engenders so much worry and concern among adults. I encourage you to take a moment to settle your nervous system before you have a conversation about social media with your tween or teen. Consider putting your hand on your heart and taking a few slow deep breaths so that your body is regulated. That way, no matter where the conversation takes you, you can start things off with an attitude of calm curiosity.

 

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