Anyone else feel like Social Media is driving the conversation in our world today? It’s difficult to find a balance through it all and helping your child navigate social media can be even more of a challenge.
Feeds. Posts. Likes. Shares. Apps. Subscriptions. Games. And the list goes on…
As parents, we can sometimes feel disconnected, confused, or any number of feelings when we watch our children get whisked away by the allure of social media and its insatiable appetite for attention. We don’t need to hate social media, but we should be very intentional and in tune with the platforms they use, and the time they spend using them.
The latest research on media usage says that most teenagers spend seven to nine hours on average per day on screens. That’s a HUGE majority of their day. Pew Research came out with a study last year where they asked teenagers 13 to 17 “How often during your day are you connected to the internet, either through a smartphone or a computer?” Almost half of them, the answer they gave was, CONSTANTLY. 😳 Yes, that is a real statistic. This is something that most families deal with at some level, particularly with adolescents and preteens.
So let’s talk about HOW to handle this as a family?
LET GO OF GUILT AND FRUSTRATION.
There is NO DOUBT that this topic of social media and how to handle this is often associated with frustration and/or guilt on behalf of the parents. We as parents need to gain a better grip on this: regardless of how we feel about devices and online social interaction – it is HERE and it is NOT going away. We see a lot of mixed feelings about this because the parents of today didn’t grow up with these devices, or these types of social outlets so this is new territory. When it comes to other parenting things such as eating healthy or how we want to incorporate exercise or other aspects of daily living into our children, we are more comfortable, because we are more familiar. So be encouraged that you are not alone.
THE SEARCH FOR SOCIAL CONNECTION.
Generally, a lot of the concerns about social media has to do with the developing brain, and the affects of excessive use has on that development. We know that as preteens and teens, their brain is maturing, it’s still developing, and it’s going through some very important maturation processes. A lot of that development actually has to do with the social reward system in the brain. One of the main things that teens are looking for is social connection. As humans, it is natural to long for a social connection. But to be more specific, at this stage of life, teens are developing the part of their brain that basically learns how to have good healthy relationships when they are an adult. Part of that process in the brain is that the brain is designed to be a reward-based system. Our brain loves rewards, and if something is rewarding for us, it reinforces that behavior, it makes us want to do it again and the social part of our brain is no different. When we get social rewards, we think about it as if someone looks at you and smiles, your brain tells you, “Hey, that felt really nice. That was a great comment,” we get socially rewarded and our brain actually fires up when this happens. It says, “Hey, you just did something culturally acceptable. I’m going to reinforce that and make you do it again and again, or at least try to get you to do it again and again.”
TIPPING FROM CONNECTION TO ADDICTION.
The concern with social media is that it becomes a petri dish so-to-speak or a laser focused version of that social reward system. There’s actually a lot of research on the “like” button. Every social media platform has some iteration of the like button that you push to reinforce this reward based system. What we know happens in the teenage brain is that the like button becomes so reinforcing, feels good and rewarding, and is SO important to them that can become a laser focus for these teens. What can happen then is that, they become very, very absorbed in that social reinforcement tool coming through social media. So, instead of just hanging out with my friends, I can constantly have my phone in my hand and constantly be seeking for that social reinforcement – THIS – is where some of that compulsive behavior can come from. This is the tipping point where it turns from social interaction to obsessive behavior, seeking only the “feel good” of social reinforcement instead of making true social connection.
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO.
Well.., you are the parent, so ultimately the decisions are yours to make, but we’d like to offer some helpful tips on how to start a conversation with your child, and hopefully come to a reasonable end with some common ground in mind.
- Limiting Screen Time. Yep, there’s an app for that. Ha, but actually, we are being serious when we say that limiting screen time is valuable, and will help them to manage time responsibly. Be sure to involve your child in this conversation. This is not a time for a heavy fist. Talk about screen time limits as a way to self manage and keep a healthy balance with all things. We invite you to take feedback from your child as you come up with a reasonable daily amount that everyone can agree upon.
- Talk To Your Child. This conversation should be light and fun. This is not an interrogation! Keep it as an exploration to find out what they spend their time on devices doing, why they like certain youtubers or games and really engage in that conversation. Once you have learned about those that influence your child – do your OWN research on those people and things. If needed, talk with your child about unhealthy examples they may be following, and help guide them to make more informed, and healthier online social connections.
- Teach About Balance. It is SO important to balance their social life with actual people. Yes, we mean interaction with other kids in a real world setting. Whether it is an intentional hangout, a church group, a volunteer group, some time out at a park, just be certain that your child has more than an electronic influence in their life.
Raising kids in an electronically connected world does not have to be upsetting – it just needs an approach that works for everyone involved. You can do it!