In today’s digital age, social media plays a significant role in the lives of adolescents. While these platforms offer a space for self-expression and connection, they also present unique challenges that can impact a teen’s mental and emotional well-being. 

As a parent, understanding how to guide your teen through the world of social media is crucial for their overall health. Dr. Anthony Johnson with Atrium Health Levine Children’s Arboretum Pediatrics shares some practical tips and strategies to help you support your teenager in navigating the complexities of the online realm.

Have Healthy Boundaries and Open Communication

A recent study by The American Psychological Association shines a light on the effects of social media usage on teens. The study found an overall improvement in body image and self-esteem after social media usage was reduced.

Johnson says one of the issues with social media is that it is unregulated. This means that when a teen sees a popular video promoting something like a fad diet, it can appear to come from a credible source even if that is not the case, making it hard to know the difference.

“Part of their developmental task at this phase of life is to figure out who they are, how they relate to other people and how they understand themselves in relation to other people. On top of that, their bodies are also changing. Much of that brings out a lot of insecurity and self-doubt,” explains Johnson. 

If you have a child under age 12, Johnson recommends holding off on allowing them to use social media until you can cultivate awareness and healthy habits with them. Talk with them about self-monitoring – what’s safe versus what’s not. That way, there are boundaries in place before they have their own social media accounts. Johnson says if you have a teen already using social media, it’s not too late to have these conversations.

“I know some teens don’t want to just sit down and talk with their parents, but I encourage parents to start the conversation and make it collaborative,” Johnson advises. “Ask what sites they are using. Ask how they feel before, during and after using them. Ask what they think is good or not good about it. These conversations can help our children and teens become intelligent consumers of social media.”

Monitor Mental Health

As a parent, you play a vital role in guiding your teen through the digital maze toward a healthy, balanced relationship with social media. Along the way, Johnson says to stay attuned to your teen’s mental health and well-being. If you notice signs of distress or changes in behavior, be proactive in addressing your concerns. Encourage them to take breaks from social media when needed and seek professional help if necessary.

“Given the nature of social media, teens may hold themselves up to unrealistic — and in many cases unreal — ideals,” Johnson says. “This can contribute to a negative self-image and a sense of never feeling good enough.”

If social media usage is causing a significant negative impact on your child and you think they may benefit from professional mental health services, seek out help from a behavioral health resource.

Be a Digital Role Model

Johnson also advises parents to be aware of how much time they spend scrolling through their own social media accounts. He encourages families to create a shared goal to set healthy boundaries or guidelines around social media usage.

“Modeling behavior is important,” Johnson says. “It’s okay for a parent to take the approach of recognizing that they, too, might use social media too much. Your child will see that the adults in the house are modeling the same behavior, and it eventually becomes a household norm.”

Embrace the Positives

Social media is here to stay, so it is nearly inevitable that adolescents will dive into that world. Johnson says it’s important to keep in mind that social media can have positive impacts, too. The pandemic certainly showed us this by helping to bring people together and connecting people who felt isolated.

“I think there can be positives to social media and people can find inspiration and motivation, but this can easily cross the line into very unhealthy territory,” says Johnson. “It’s a caregiver’s responsibility to help teens know how to positively engage with social media and use it for good.”

Johnson says to think of social media the way you would dark chocolate. It isn’t completely unhealthy for you, and it even has some benefits, you just don’t want to overindulge. 

Navigating the digital world with your teen requires patience, understanding and active involvement. By fostering open communication, setting boundaries and promoting positive online engagement, you can empower your teen to use social media as a tool for connection and self-expression while maintaining their mental and emotional well-being.

Your child deserves a dedicated provider who will prioritize their well-being. Find an Atrium Health Levine Children’s pediatrician near you.

By Bury