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Tips for Healthy Social Media Use: For Parents and Teens

We all know how the algorithm works—the more you look at your phone, the more it will send compelling content to keep your eyes from looking away. It’s hard to break habits of checking TikTok or Instagram and constantly refreshing to see more, but it’s important to take time away for our mental and physical health. Parents can set a good example through their own virtual behavior. Here are a few things you can do: 

Tips for Parents: Healthy Social Media Use

  1. Understand the apps. What was true two years ago is no longer the case. Download the apps yourself and understand how they work. The apps and their algorithm are stronger than our will, and understanding how they work can help parents create sensible limits.  

  1. Understand that all social media is advertisement. This is not about the actual selling of goods but rather branding an image of one’s self. What we post on social media signals to others how we want to be perceived. Therefore, inherent in any social media post is an advertisement of one’s self, reinforced by the currency of likes and shares.  

  1. Create a media plan. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a template for developmentally appropriate media use for children and teens to co-create with their parents. This plan can replace frequent negotiations about device use.  

  1. Have an honest conversation. Talking to teens about social media is critical to protecting their mental health. Whether they’re about to download apps or have already created profiles, speak openly about the importance of protecting their privacy, the permanence of posting on the internet, and the signs of cyberbullying. And make sure it’s an ongoing conversation! 

  1. Listen to your teen. These conversations are two-way streets. Having an open ear to their thoughts and concerns about what they see online will help maintain an honest communication channel. Make sure your teen knows they can come to you with any questions. 

  1. Model positive social media behavior. Your teens are still watching and learning from you, so try to model the behavior you want to see. Keep your presence positive, set time limits, and try not to scroll at the dinner table. 

  1. Non-negotiable limits. We recommend that social media access be turned off during the school day, social media accounts should be made private, and devices are not in the bedroom at night.  

Tips for Teens: Healthy Social Media Use

  1. Delete the social media apps from your phone. You don’t have to delete your account, but deleting the apps from your phone will take away the urge to refresh the page every time you unlock your device. 

  1. Leave devices at home. Spend time with your friends and family and leave the devices at home. We all know how hard it is to ditch your phone, but try it and you will find how much more present you are with your surroundings. 

  1. Disable your notifications. Head to your settings portal and turn off notifications from your social media apps. Without the constant reminders, you will find yourself checking in less. 

  1. Limit time. Turn time controls on so that when you reach your limit, you are kicked out of the app. 

  1. Don’t post when emotions are high. Strong emotions serve as a signal to wait to post. The impulse might be to use the social media platform to vent to receive validation… but wait so that you don’t post something that actually makes the situation worse.  

988, the national suicide and crisis lifeline, is available anytime, anywhere. Simply call, chat, or text 9-8-8 for an immediate response from a licensed mental health professional. In Utah, students also have access to the SafeUT app where they can chat confidentially or submit a tip about themselves or a friend.