Tips for Parents: Social Media Use and Kids

By Nicole Porterpan-Cassell, LPC, Certified School Counselor

The Pros and Cons of Social Media for Kids

If you are trying to figure out how much and what type of social media access your kid should have, we are here to help.

Navigating social media today can be challenging, especially for children and adolescents. There are clear benefits gained from social media – engagement with peers, learning about other cultures, and more.

However, the research has shown that the use of social media can also pose certain risks. One potential negative effect is an increase in anxiety and depression. As you know, the brains of children and adolescents are not fully developed, which means some abilities (such as logic and emotion regulation) aren’t ready for the online world.

If someone replies to a post with a negative comment, adults are able (or perhaps, usually able) to use rational thinking to decide whether or not to give credence to this person’s opinion. Children on the other hand may be at an elevated risk of feeling hurt or accurately critiqued in some way. Whether commenting or simply liking and disliking posts, the messages kids receive through social media can have an impact on how they feel about themselves and others. For example, if your child’s post received all positive comments and 10 likes they may still become upset because a peer’s post received more than 10 likes.

Social media also tends to create anxiety around missing out. Teens may see their peers posting pictures of activities that they weren’t invited to and experience anxiety or sadness over being left out. It’s true that your child cannot possibly participate in every activity, but before social media, the activities of others weren’t necessarily front and center for all to see.

What Can Parents Do to Reduce the Risk of Harm from Social Media?

While we wouldn’t want to deprive kids of one of the most common ways of engaging with their peers, there are ways to reduce risk by setting some specific expectations. Here are some tips to get you started.

#1 – Reduce Screen Time by Increasing Time Spent Elsewhere

A word of caution: Restricting access to a highly rewarding stimulus tends to increase the dopamine rush of obtaining said stimulus. In some cases, parents may unintentionally induce addictive tendencies (e.g., sneaking screen time, lying about screen use, choosing games or shows over their basic needs, etc.).

Instead of reducing access, consider filling your child’s schedule with other activities and then allowing access to screens assuming all other responsibilities are met. If your child does their homework and chores, spends time outside and being active, engages with family members, and anything else that might be important for their wellbeing, then how they use their free time matters a bit less.

It’s common for parents to fear their child will stay up all night on TikTok or playing video games after doing all their other responsibilities. While that might happen sometimes, your child will quickly learn that it’s unwise to do so when you have to wake up early for school or other responsibilities.

#2 – Establish Screen-Free Zones

Another guideline to consider is which areas of your home are screen-free zones. Areas your family may wish to consider are the kitchen, dining room table, and bedrooms. Along with screen-free zones, your family can designate screen-free times. Times you may wish to designate as screen-free may be:

  • One hour before bed
  • Meal times
  • Family time
  • While in the car, except for long trips
  • While at school
  • While doing homework
  • While walking
  • When friends are visiting
  • Scheduled technology breaks

Just like children are taught manners for in-person social interactions, they need to be taught manners for social media. Your family may want to include guidelines like no devices at the table, not looking at or using a device while talking to someone, and not posting negative comments on social media.

Some families also set boundaries around where devices are charged overnight. Two possible locations for charging are in the kitchen or the parent’s bedroom. This boundary can help ensure your child is not losing sleep due to interacting with their device overnight.

#3 – Have a System of Approval for Online Access

An important consideration for your family’s media plan is guidance on what media is acceptable for your child to use. Some examples for this guideline could be:

  • Asking permission before visiting new websites or video sites
  • Asking permission before downloading apps, movies, and games
  • Asking an adult if the apps, movies or games are appropriate for their age
  • Only playing video games that align with the family’s rules, both at home & at someone else’s house
  • Playing learning apps
  • Only using video chat with permission to communicate with friends or relatives

Parents can also use resources like to learn more about content and media they are unfamiliar with. If your child tells you they have viewed content that you define as inappropriate, discuss the content with them. This discussion can include why the content is not appropriate for someone their age while letting them know that it is safe to talk to you when they see anything that makes them uncomfortable.

#4 – Teach Your Kids About Online Best Practices

Safe use of social media and the internet in general is another important component of a family media plan. Guidelines that some families have found useful include:

  • Tell a parent or another trusted adult if you or someone else is being bullied, disrespected, attacked, or treated badly online
  • Not being rude or bullying anyone online
  • Tell a parent or another trusted adult if you get messages or photos that make you uncomfortable
  • Do not share photos online
  • Do not give out personal information online
  • Do not accept friend or follow requests from anyone you do not personally know (including friends of friends)

#5 – Be a Role Model

Kids are always watching and learning from those around them.

Children observe how adults use their devices and interact with social media. This fact makes it important for adults to model safe and healthy use of social and other media.

One way to do this is to limit your own screen time and abide by your family’s screen-free times and zones. Appropriate content can be defined by creating a collection of appropriate apps, games, and ad-free streaming for children to choose from. Parents can locate learning-based videos and games and encourage children to use those first. You can also teach your children how to identify ads within games and websites and how to avoid interacting with these ads. With older children, parents can discuss the persuasive and sometimes biased opinions used in advertising.

Social media can have both positive and potential negative effects for users of all ages. Creating a Family Media Plan can help reduce these risks with clear guidelines and expectations.

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