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There's a lot of discussion lately about the connection between social media and young people’s mental health. People are asking good and hard questions, trying to figure out if teens should be on social media at all —  and if so, how we can protect them from potential harms it can cause, like feelings of isolation, depression, poor body image and self-esteem, and more.

What we do know is that 13-17-year-old teens — and even younger kidsare active on social media, with 95% on YouTube, 67% on TikTok, and 62% on Instagram. Since that’s the reality, let’s talk about what you can do to help the teens and tweens in your life manage these apps. Whether they're new to social media platforms or longtime users, it's never too late to help your kid develop healthy relationships with themselves and others.

  1. Discuss boundaries together. You can make thoughtful decisions with your teen about getting on social media or changing their use, if they’re already on it. Talk to your teen about what you consider appropriate for their age, and conditions on use. You may decide you need access to their accounts, or that you follow each other. You may opt to agree to time limits on their use of social media or what types of accounts they can follow. Having these detailed conversations can help set guidelines that you both feel good about.
  2. Set them up for success. You can help teens and pre-teens think critically about what they’re seeing and doing on social media. That's called media literacy. For example, you might talk about sponsored posts to help them understand advertisers trying to sell them something. You can also discuss how airbrushing and filters can lead to unhealthy or biased beauty standards and body image. It's a good idea to talk about how they can figure out what sources are reliable for accurate information.
  3. Talk about bullying. Nearly half of teens say they’ve been bullied on social media. You can talk about treating friends with respect both in person and on social media. This could also include making sure your teen knows they can come to you if they see someone being bullied or are being bullied themselves. 
  4. Talk about online privacy. There are lots of ways technology can help us explore  relationships and sexuality. But this comes with its own risks. Make sure your teen knows it’s never OK to feel pressured to to pressure others to DM nudes or other sexual content. You can also talk about safety, lifting the risks of sharing sexual content even if there’s consent. No matter how much you may trust someone, they could decide to share it more publicly or with others. 
  5. Check in regularly. Once you have all these conversations,  find moments to ask your teen how it’s going. Try to  ask open-ended questions like: “How is social media helpful or meaningful to you?” or “What feelings come up for you when you’re using social media?” or “What changes do you notice in how you feel about yourself or your relationships since you’ve been on social media?” Listen to their answers. If things are going well, that's great. If not, you might need to go back to tip #1.

Want more support on talking with your teen about this stuff? Check out our personal safety online pages for middle schoolers and high schoolers.

Tags: parents, social media