Social media is a reality of modern life, and forbidding your children from using it could prove harmful and fruitless. However, allowing them free rein means risking they’ll encounter bullying, inappropriate images and information, or both.
It’s challenging to know where to draw the line as a parent. However, your approach can improve the relationship between you and your child.
Here’s how to create healthy social media boundaries for your children’s mental wellness.
1. Understand the Reality and Risks
Today, nearly seven in 10 Americans use social media to stay in touch with friends and family, share news articles and pass the time. It provides a valuable social outlet for many, particularly those isolated by disability or taking precautions in a pandemic age.
Many parents have justifiable concerns over social media use, but there are valuable benefits to this mode of communication. For example, you can find a support group for nearly any mental or physical health condition. Participating in such activities can become a healthy part of your child’s support system.
However, the web has a dark side, and it’s often hidden in plain sight. Nefarious dangers exist, and overexposure to the wrong media types can damage your child’s psyche — particularly if they’re female. About 58% of teenaged girls say that seeing pictures of others living glamorous lives on social media makes them feel worse about themselves, compared to only 19% of boys.
It’s crucial to discuss social media realities with your teens. Inform them that what many influencers post is often carefully staged — it’s no more indicative of fact than a movie. Remind them that they don’t have to compete with anybody: Being a little better than they were yesterday is the only challenge they need to accept.
Furthermore, it’s crucial to cover basic internet safety rules with your children. Ensure they know the following before they get online:
- Never reveal personal information: This rule includes your address, phone number, school name or location, and other places the child frequents, such as the YMCA.
- Use a screen name: Your child should avoid revealing their full name to people they meet online. They should reserve their full name only for those they know in real life and keep their passwords private from everyone but their parents.
- Never agree to meet anyone online in real life without permission: People can easily conceal their true identity online, and meetings with online friends should occur in supervised conditions.
- Tell, don’t engage: Children should know to never respond to any threatening posts or private messages or those that make them feel iffy or afraid. Instead, they should let you know immediately.
Parents should spend time online with their children to reinforce these guidelines and ensure they understand why they should follow them. Offering rational explanations for your policies typically responds in higher compliance than a “because I said so” approach.
2. Set Time Limits
Time limits aren’t magical — they won’t necessarily prevent your child from encountering danger online. However, they do minimize the chances.
Here’s where parents have to step up to the plate. Kids seldom toe the line with a “do as I say, not as I do,” approach. If you limit their social media, yet they see you scrolling through your feeds every few minutes, they’re much more likely to follow your example than your words.
Discuss a reasonable limit with your children — perhaps 30 minutes per day. Whatever you decide, choose together and stick to the rule. Set the time limit function on your phone and make it a game to keep from overriding it, perhaps awarding a small prize at week’s end to anyone who managed to stay within the assigned parameters.
3. Create Icon Groupings
It’s almost become a Pavlovian response: You pick up your phone to check one thing, like an incoming text or the weather forecast, and you hit the Instagram icon next to it. Before you know it, you’ve mindlessly scrolled your feed for several minutes.
Here’s a nifty psychological trick — organize your icons. You can group them into separate subsections, keeping your social media icons hidden from immediate view and reducing the temptation to “just click real quick.”
4. Make the Rules Together
Your children are more likely to comply with rules that they played a role in creating. Ask for their input when creating guidelines.
For example, you might decide to take a one-week social media cleanse twice a year where you tune out of your devices. Brainstorm some alternative activities you can do with your kids during this time to make it an occasion to look forward to, not dread. Discuss why you take this approach and the benefits.
5. Create a Charging Station
It’s usually easy to locate computers in public areas of the home so you can monitor your child’s usage. Cellphones are a bit sneakier, inviting after-hours, under-the-covers scrolling.
Instead, create a charging station for all your devices in the kitchen — or anywhere outside the bedroom. Have everyone place their gadgets there at day’s end, leaving 30 minutes before bedtime for nonelectronic activities like reading or yoga. You’ll sleep better without the light disturbing your melatonin production.
Adopt a Mentor Mindset
Sometimes, you have to set hard and fast rules. However, you’ll do better adopting a mentor mindset than a dictator role when setting healthy social media boundaries for your child’s mental wellness.
Discuss how social media may impact their mental health — for better or worse. Guide them to appropriate groups and sites that share legitimate information. Ask them how various interactions affect them, such as, “You seem upset about what your friend posted. What’s going on, and how do you think we should best handle the situation?”
Creating Healthy Social Media Boundaries
Social media is a reality of modern life. Even businesses rely on it to communicate with customers, and teaching your children to use it wisely is a useful life skill.
Follow the guidelines above for creating healthy social media boundaries with your children. When you work together, you can make the web a safer place for people of all ages.