Social Media and Mental Health: Helping Teens Create Healthy Boundaries
Teenagers are growing up in an unprecedented time. The younger generation of today hasn’t known a life without them. In this article, we’re going to cover teens and social media. We’ll take a look at tips for helping teens create healthy boundaries and the benefits of counseling when difficulties arise.
Teens and Social Media: Quick Facts
- Over 70% of teens report checking their accounts multiple times per day
- At the time of this writing, Instagram and Snapchat were the two most popular platforms for teens.
- More than 90% of teens report social media as one of the primary methods of communication with friends.
- Approximately 25% of teens say their dating partner uses social media to “check-in” on them too often or is manipulative with their accounts.
- Almost all teens report online bullying at one point or another.
- Predators are using these platforms to target teens and stalk victims.
- Teens are using platforms to illicit sexual acts, conversations, and/or sending nude photos. Exact numbers vary but estimates are that at least 25% of teens have had at least one of these experiences
- The first age of exposure to pornography for boys is 8 years old, with many boys exposed by 5. This may not always happen via social media but many platforms allow porn to be spread with ease.
- Over 60% of teens say they hide online behavior from their parents. Over 40% report they’d change their online behavior if they knew their parents were watching.
- 50% of teens report that they get distracted from doing their homework by checking social accounts.
Helping Teens Establish Healthy Boundaries for Social Media and Mental Health
We’re all learning together about navigating the social media world, and unfortunately, this isn’t a topic that we can call our mom or grandma and ask what she used to do with her children. We’ve got to navigate this together to help teens thrive.
Remember, the teen brain is more prone to addiction and high-risk behaviors than adults. The dopamine hit they receive from scrolling and seeing the number of “likes” on a post is higher than in an adult brain. When a teen posts a picture of themselves and others like or comment on their pictures, to a teen brain this provides such a dopamine surge that they can begin to crave this affirmation.
As parents, we need to be able to provide an example of how to handle social media and set healthy boundaries. If we ask our children to do something, such as no screens after dinner, then we need to follow that model as well.
If we prohibit certain activities or sites then we need to provide accountability and a model for them as well. As we teach our teens about not oversharing, we need to be mindful of what we ourselves post.
Parents can lead by example by never posting anything about their children without their explicit permission. This is especially important as they enter the teen years. Parents are prone to overshare about their children and it may cause harm to relationships later on.
It’s important for parents to understand that while you may only be sharing a post or picture with your friends on social media this information can travel quickly into your child’s circle of influence.
We’ve also become far too prone to use our smartphones and social media as a time killer. The addictive nature of a teen’s brain is going to be even more apt to do this. If we constantly grab our phones every time we’ve got a spare moment, our children are likely to do this as well.
Making a list of other hobbies and activities for you to do can set a good example for your teens. We often think about how young kids model our behavior but we forget that teens are watching and will model our behavior too.
Additional tips for healthy boundaries:
- Install a website and/or app blocker to prevent visiting specific sites.These can be set to block certain sites/apps/material during certain times of the day or block them altogether. This way parents can ensure kids aren’t getting on social platforms while at school or overnight.
- Set clear boundaries.Give your teens specific phone hours, apps/websites that may be used, who they may contact, etc. The consequences of misuse should be stated ahead of time and followed through. A lack of follow-through can cause the child to act out more often because of inconsistent consequences.
- Turn off all screens at least two hours before bedtime.This helps balance melatonin production and helps the brain and body calm down for sleep. Many families unplug the WiFi and place all devices in a specific box, drawer, or bin until the appointed time the next day.
- Provide accountability for offline activities.Help your children find other things to do with their free time than sitting online. Perhaps they earn screen time for completing other activities or they only get access to phones/computers after extracurricular activities are complete for the day.
- Teach them early on about what’s appropriate to share.Teens are likely to share their full name, name of the school, and name of locations they frequent on their accounts. This makes it easy for predators to target them and raises security and privacy concerns for the entire family. Teaching internet security is valuable and important.
- Keep open lines of communication.Check in with your teens to see how they are using the platforms and how they’re feeling about what’s happening on them. Make sure to remind them that everyone can see what they post- even if it’s on a “private” message, that can still be screenshotted and shared. It’s never going to be private or go away. Everyone from friends to romantic interests and even future employers or college admissions reps will see what they post online.
- Monitor use to your comfort level.
As we saw in the stats above, social media has made it easy for teens to hide behavior from their parents. Each family needs to decide what type of monitoring they are comfortable with and re-evaluate as children grow.
How Christian Counseling Can Help
One of the more obvious ways counseling may help is with bullying. Unfortunately, we’re finding these platforms are a breeding ground for online or cyberbullying. Inappropriate sexual activity or sexualized behavior, even among those in middle school, is also quite common and bullying can be related to sexual activity.
As Christians, we often think our kids are exempt from this. This isn’t the case. Christian teens are as likely to be bullied, solicited, or exposed to unwanted content online. Some predators have been known to target teens online who appear to be more conservative. They believe these children would be more naive towards manipulation and blackmail. Kids and teens who have had negative experiences on these platforms can benefit from counseling.
In some cases, peer-to-peer relationships may need counseling. Teens often report that friendships have ended or been harmed because of something that happened online. Counseling for all involved may mend the relationship and teach offline communication skills.
Teens are also needing an increasing amount of support to learn how to communicate in person in the first place; this is something parents can model in the home, yes. Face-to-face social skills are also decreasing among teens in general.
A positive and supportive counseling environment can help teens develop these skills, undo bad habits learned online, and give them the safety and security to explore communication outside of the parent-child relationship. Sometimes, especially with teens, it’s helpful to have someone other than the parent teaching habits and behaviors.
Counseling can also help mend parent-child relationships. A large number of teens say that their relationship with their parents has been damaged by something the parent posted about them online. As stated above, parents often overshare about their children online.
We’ve heard stories of kids who get their first accounts and are horrified to see what their parents have been posting about them online. This is all so new and we’re all human and making mistakes. Counseling can help heal those wounds and repair that relationship.
We didn’t even touch on the negative effects of social media on mental health. That could be a separate article in and of itself. If your teen is struggling with issues related to social media and mental health, Christian counseling can be an important part of their healing. It can help them healthily navigate the internet and work through the effects and cycles created by these platforms.
“Android Phone”, Courtesy of Rami Al-zayat, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Checking Social Media”, Courtesy of Luke Porter, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Cyber-bullying”, Courtesy of Terimakasih0, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Social Media”, Courtesy of Merakist, Unsplash.com, CC0 License