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The Social Media Diet

The definition of “use in moderation” advises someone that is it best not to have or do too much or too little of anything. Social media is no exception to this concept, as it is a way that so many of us spend our time on/with/doing each day. In fact, some people spend more time on social media in a day than they do eating. The American Psychological Association has issued a health advisory for teens and social media.  You can read the publication HERE.  If I am being honest part of me is surprised it has taken this long to step back and look at how we are spending our time accessing social media and the toll it might be taking on all of us, but especially teenagers. During the pandemic, it was stressed to so many how technology was vital to us staying connected with others, which was true. But did we ever have a follow up conversation of now that the pandemic has shifted and we have resumed back to a new normal, that in person interactions are also vital to us staying connected? I don’t think we did or at least not enough.

With this advisory, it is asking questions like “how early is too early” and “how much is too much” to be accessing social media. This requires a great deal of individualization due to the varying stages of child and teenage development. Sometimes I wonder if my own adult brain is able to process and make sense of what I am accessing on social media, let alone a teenage brain that it not fully developed. However, regardless of those things I think the underlying question should also include, “Why am I accessing social media”? Many times social media is reported as being used an “escape” or possibly even a coping method for teens. There are several studies that show that while the teenage intention is to escape or distract; by mindlessly scrolling and not actively engaging in the social media community, teens report declines in life satisfaction.

If the intent is we are accessing social media to make us feel better, so to speak, but it’s having the opposite effect – isn’t that a problem? The article on this advisory suggests that parents become actively involved in what your teen is accessing, having open communication, and pay attention to what is being consumed. Not much different from any other way to monitor your child/teen, right? You could omit the word social media and enter several others and the same recommendation would likely be appropriate. These seem like such a simple recommendations but incredibly important, none the less. Some of the recommendations designed to ensure that teens get the proper training on how to use social media safely are:

  • Start an active discussion about what sites teens are using, how often and how those experiences make them feel
  • Limit social media use through phone settings
  • Ongoing discussions about social media use and active supervision
  • Parents model healthy social media use, including taking social media “holidays” as a family
  • Monitor for problematic social media use (i.e. interference with routines, limited in person interactions, lack of physical activity, cravings to check social media and lying to spend more time online)
  • Teach social media literacy, including the pitfalls of social media (On Our Sleeves offers free-downloadable resources for families including conversation starters)

So how does one implement “thoughtful regulation” and practice “safe social” in knowing that social media is not going away? And to be fair, not all social media use is bad! With careful conversations and intention setting, social media creates opportunities for users to create identities and express themselves in ways they might not have had before. It allows users to communicate and offer or receive support. It provides entertainment, exposure to current events and can even be educational. Set limits and boundaries with your teens. Talk about what they are accessing and engaging with when online. And like with most things, it is to be used in moderation.

Written by Tawney Schafbuch, School Based Supervisor

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