Many parents today, just like you, are worried that their teen is obsessed with social media.
For many of us, anything beyond Facebook or Pinterest is a like foreign language we know nothing about. And even if you have an understanding of the other big players in the media world, you’ll probably find it’s hard to keep up with the seemingly constant new trends… boomerang instastory, say what?
And when it seems like your teen is addicted to their phones and more concerned with their number of ‘likes’ and ‘followers’ than in-person relationships, it’s no wonder you’re looking for some guidance.
You are in the right place! This guide is specifically written for parents like you and teaches all about:
- Why social media has it’s grips on your child
- What the major platforms are all about
- When to be concerned
- How to begin making changes
You ready? Let’s go.
Social Media is Everywhere
Before I jump straight into the specifics about how teens are using social media, let’s take a quick step back and look at how social media and the internet more generally influences most people on the planet. On…the…PLANET! Is it just me or that kind of insane?
When we look at social media use across the globe, statistics show that people are spending more and more time logged-in each year. In the past 5 years alone, the average number of social media minutes per day has gone from 90 to 135. The number of registered social media accounts, especially with Instagram, is growing exponentially. And despite what you might have heard, Facebook is still a massive time-sink for as many as 3/4 of the people in North America!
So take a breath, let go of the possibility that it’s just a fad, and try to accept that social media will be a major thing for the rest of your life. Yikes. (But don’t worry too much, that’s why you’re here!).
One of the biggest challenges for parents today is that they cannot necessarily manage what their kids do online because online is everywhere! Gone are the days where people access the internet from one computer in the family den (remember chatting over ICQ or MsnMessenger and switching screens when your mom or dad walked in? Ya, that’s long gone).
Instead, parents are incredibly challenged with their kids having constant internet access through their mobile devices. Take a look at these numbers for a little more perspective (all North American stats):
- 93% of teens ages 15-17 have internet access through a mobile device.
- 16-24 year olds average 200 minutes / day on a mobile device, & more mobile online time than any other age group.
- Adults 35-44 years old spend 100 minutes / day on mobile devices
A unique thing about parents like you (or at least those with school-aged or teenage kids) is that they have a sense of what social media is all about. While you aren’t a ‘digital native’ like your child is, you have been online long enough to be comfortable in that world.
You know what it feels like to receive a lot of comments (or none) on your Facebook post. You’re pleasantly surprised when so many people wish you happy birthday. It makes you feel good! And what’s particularly unique about your generation of parents is that you probably have your own goals to reduce social media or internet usage. So really, we are all in this together.
But we’ll get to that later. For now, let’s dive in to what’s happening for that social-media-obsessed kiddo of yours.
Step Into Their Shoes: Why Teens Love Social Media
I have noticed time and again in my counselling practice that parents are incredibly eager to find a solution to solve a problem. Makes sense. However, they tend to skip the part about building understanding of what’s happening for their kids.
As parents, we sometimes assume we understand an issue, or maybe we don’t think it really matters to raise our awareness. Why think about the problem when you could just fix it? But I will tell you (many times on this website and throughout my courses) that developing awareness and then showing your understanding to you family is absolutely essential. It’s basically the foundation to making changes with kids, so pay close attention!
This idea is actually a simple therapeutic technique called conveying empathy. And no, this isn’t just parroting someone’s feelings in an annoyingly disconnected way (“oh, you’re feeling sad”), but rather, it’s about letting them know that you’re listening, and you get them. When we do this with our kids (and with anyone really), we show respect, we disarm defensiveness, and we are much more likely to get what we want.
Simple recap before trying to implement change:
- Work hard at understanding why your teens loves social media so much
- Communicate your understanding and let them know you get it.
If you skip to strategies without putting in the effort to learn and show your understanding, you risk damaging your relationship with your child and making the issue worse.
If you take care of the relationship first, you are more likely to foster meaningful connection, joy, and balance for your family.
So put on your curious hat and see if you can learn more about why your teen is so “obsessed” with Snapchat, Instagram, or other social media apps. What is it that brings them joy? What’s their least favourite part? What value does it brings to their lives, and what purpose does it serve? Stepping into a curious (rather than punitive or all-knowing) place will help your teen open up rather than feeling attacked (and shut-down)
The Most Popular Social Media Platforms for Teens (And What You Should Know About Them)
Part of the challenge with showing empathy when your teen seems obsessed with social media is that most adults don’t use or understand the ‘newbies’ to the social media game (things have come a long way since Facebook). And, some parents use this as an excuse not to monitor what is happening online or how their kids are engaging with these platforms.
Here’s the truth: it is your job as a parent to understand what your child is doing with their time and whom they are interacting with.
Social media is not too complicated, you’re not “too old for this stuff”, it’s just that it might take some time and effort to figure out. A large part of good parenting is having a handle on what’s happening in your child’s world, and given how much time most teens are spending on their phones, you need to be in-the-know.
Take a look at this chart (and read more about the study here) to get a quick feel of the top apps, and how their usage has changed over the past couple years:
Now let’s dive in a little deeper.
SnapChat is rated most important social media platform for teens today with the highest usage rate. This is clearly a big deal for teens so take some time to get to know it (not necessarily by signing up, but by doing some research).
Snapchat is primarily a messaging app for private photos and short videos that disspear after the recipient views the message for a few seconds. The problem with this, though, is that people can easily screenshot within that time, so the messages are not always destroyed. As you can imagine, some teens get into trouble with sending explicit messages because of how easily they are made permanent.
There are a few other elements that make Snapchat appealing for teens. For instance, there’s a ton of fun and catchy filters, stickers, and other editing tools that people use to easily up the interest-factor of their ‘Snaps’ (their photo/video messages, that is). You’ve probably seen those cute deer filters, funny voice covers, and sparkly elements that add fun flare and creativity to posts? Those originated in SnapChat and teens love this! There’s also is a ‘story’ feature that gathers a user’s posts from the past 24 hours and plays them like a video reel.
Alright, so this next feature has seriously upped the addictive-factor over the last year: users earn a ‘Snapstreak’ symbol beside another user’s name when they are on a messaging streak. It’s a challenge to make sure you and that other person send a snap to one another every single day.
SO. What’s happened is this Snapstreak indicator, the a number beside a fire emoji (image: Business Insider ) is somewhat of a relationship status symbol! Just imagine it: “Omg John and I have a 235 day snap streak! I cannot break it!!” No wonder teens don’t want to put their phones down. Sounds stressful to me! And the hour glass sign indicates that time is running out to send a snap.
By design, this drives teens to make darn sure they aren’t the ones to mess up the streak, and thus, use the app all the time. Seems unfair, doesn’t it?
Want some more details about Snapchat? This post will fill you in on everything you need to know.
Rated 2nd most important social media app for teens, Instagram is a major player across the board (adults are pretty into it too). One of the most appealing aspects of Instagram is that you can follow any account that is public (which most are). This means that your teen can have access to visual content from their favourite most desired people on the planet!
Athletes, musicians, supermodels, actors, brands, and then of course, normal people. Remember how massive reality TV became? People get so excited to sneak a peak into other peoples’ lives, and Instagram offers constant access.
Instagram’s visual focus is appealing for many users. Rather than prioritizing the written comment (like Facebook and Twitter typically do), Instagram favours beautifully curated and edited photos as well as short videos, and allows for captions. Like Snapchat, Instagram has cool filters and editing tools that help users feel confident and artistic about their posts.
One of the biggest draws to this platform is the ‘likes’ and ‘followers’ tally that is always on display. By default, users receive notification when anyone likes, follows, shares, or comments on their post, and believe me, it can feel very affirming to receive these. The problem is that with the notifications trickling in, teens can easily get into the habit of constantly checking for new engagement.
This platform also includes a private messaging function, as well as the ability to form private groups.
And similar to Snapchat, there is now a ‘stories’ feature where users can create temporary content that only lasts for 24 hours (although that’s not how things actually work online, as you know).
Let’s take a look at Twitter. While this platform is certainly not ubiquitous with only 56% usage, it might be part of your child’s social media presence, with kids rating it as the 3rd most important platform (probably because they usually follow big names).
If you are unfamiliar with Twitter, here a quick recap:
The point of Twitter is to send short and public tweets (messages) to anyone who follows you. Registered users can follow anyone they like without permission (unlike Facebook where you must accept friend requests). The appeal is similar to Instagram where users can get a glimpse into “important” people’s lives, like celebrities, musicians, and actors. Rather than visual content, Twitter is mainly about sharing text, like status updates, ideas, quotes, or just random thoughts (like this hilarious tweet).
While Twitter wasn’t always popular with teens, it is actually growing, and with some groups, it’s quite a big deal.
Experts talk about Twitter as being like a cocktail party, where everyone can chime in on a conversation in a really easy and natural way. Rather than having difficult-to-track conversation threads (like Facebook) or private messages that disappear (Snapchat), Twitter conversations are there for everyone to see and take part in, regardless of whether you are friends with that account.
Problems come up with regard to things like bullying where people can “talk” about a topic or event in a public way very easily, although this is a possibility with most social media apps.
Good news is that you can follow your kids and check in with what kinds of things they are posting. Unless they block you. Or have a secret account…
Unless you’ve have been unplugged for most of your life, you are very familiar with Facebook and how it works.
The interesting thing that’s happened though is that Facebook has lost it’s ‘cool factor’ for young people. I think the reason for this is that most adults are using it (some quite excessively), and teens relate things their parents love as being lame. Know what I mean?
But interestingly, many teens still have a Facebook account and actively use it. So, for this platform you will need to assess the role it plays in your child’s life.
What I’ve noticed about Facebook is that is is common for family members across generations to all have accounts and be friends with each other. So most likely, you can actually engage with you kids this way. You probably aren’t “snapping” with your kids, but might be Facebook friends.
And if your child won’t accept your friend request, there is probably something they don’t want you to see (or maybe they are worried about your embarrassing FB etiquette?). It’s possible.
If you don’t know what Musical.ly is yet, you are in for at treat (I mean, I was thoroughly entertained during my ‘research’ for this post!). Just get on YouTube and search for the best Musical.ly videos and you’ll see the point right away.
Simply put, this social media platform lets users create their own music videos to any song or voice content. Some artists use this app to display their incredible talents, and some people just play around and make hilarious lip-synced videos to their favourite songs.
Take a look at this compilation video to get a quick sense of what it’s about:
Wild, isn’t it?
You’ll quickly see why this app is so appealing and also appreciate the skill needed to figure out how to record really amazing videos.
Teens are earning massive ‘cool-ness’ points for creating captivating videos, and of course like most social media apps, engagement rates (such as comments, likes, and shares) are recorded and serve as a status score.
This might be a fun app to ask you child about – they’ll likely have favourite users and show you some amazingly entertaining videos. And at the very least, learning about this platform will give you a great example of how social media has evolved from when it first came on the scene.
This blogging platform isn’t necessarily taking teenagers by storm, but you’ll likely hear them talk about it at some point.
Ever heard of WordPress, Blogger or Squarespace? These are popular blogging platforms that allow users to create a massive variety of content and could support things like online stores, travel blogs, a visual or photography blog, among many other uses.
Because of how easy it is to post something in a creative way, many teens are using this instead of Facebook to document their lives and share it with the world. It’s important to know that anyone can view a blog or subscribe to the mailing list (if the owner has set up a mailing list). Keep that in mind should you want to check out what kinds of things your teen is posting or if you have concerns about who is looking on.
While you won’t necessarily see WhatsApp on every teens’ phone, you should become familiar with what it is because like these other platforms above, it isn’t going anywhere.
This is the most popular messaging app across the globe (over 1.3billion users!), however it’s not huge for teens in North America because most of them seem to chat and message with their phone plans or through other social media.
Still, you should know what it is so you aren’t stumped when it comes up in conversation.
In a nutshell, WhatsApp allows users to perform the same functions on their smartphones (like talking, texting, picture and video messaging) however it uses data or wifi when available. In other parts of the world, people don’t even bother paying for calling minutes because they just find a wifi location and talk/text as much as they want to. Appealing right?
There is nothing about WhatsApp that is odd or would stump a parent today (unlike Snapchat and Musical.ly). It’s intuitive, free, and awesome. And now you know the lingo.
Phew! You made it.
So now your social media vocabulary is closer to your child’s, although let’s face it, parents will always be a little bit off in our kids’ eyes. And that’s OK.
The point here is to know what these platforms are all about so that you are at least speaking the same language, and therefore, you can ask the important questions and actually assess whether or not social media is playing a healthy role in your child’s life.
(All stats from statista.com 2017
How Do You Know When You’re Child Uses Social Media Too Much?
You’ve done well if you’re still here! It’s a lot of info to take in.
By this point you’ve raised your understanding of social media and the Internet in general on a global scale, you’ve paused to truly understand why your child loves social media and what she gets out of it, and you’ve upped your social media lingo.
That’s a lot. But it’s doesn’t solve the problem.
You’ve established a foundation to now start assessing how your child is engaging in the social media world and understanding whether there is truly a problem.
It’s always been my commitment to clearly state my values so parents know where I’m coming from. I do NOT think social media is inherently ‘bad’, and actually, I really love a lot of what it offers. Full disclosure: I use Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest and if I had more guts, I’d probably create a few Musical.ly videos too!
Across my entire business and within my daily and family life, I consistently encourage moderate social media and tech use, including learning how to manage them in a balanced healthy way. Aside from really serious cases, I do not think it’s necessary to cut ourselves or our kids off from social media.
There are many ways, however, that teens can abuse social media that is clearly not moderate.
In general, there might be a problem with how much your child is using social media if it interferes with every day life and brings about negative consequences. Here are some specific things to look out for.
Signs That Your Child Might Be Overusing Social Media:
- Phone is constantly in hand
- Most often ‘checked-out’ and not listening
- Worried you will look at their phone
- Constantly check for ‘likes’ or other engagement
- Aren’t interested in other activities
- Stay up late at night on phone
- Sexting or sending other inappropriate messages
- Aren’t meeting responsibilities
- Interpersonal relationships are suffering
- Unable to enjoy experiences without ‘sharing’ it online
- Feel pulled to ‘check-in’ in at every location
I guarantee that most people who read this will think, “Well shit, my daughter does a lot for these things!” Don’t fret. Just take it as a sign that you listened to your gut, and that some things likely need to change.
Also, a bit of a caution: there are ways that teens interact through social media that parents just don’t get. We don’t care as much about things like followers and ‘likes’, but don’t think that youd child has a problem if they do.
One of my favourite sayings is: it’s only a problem when it’s a problem.
So, their love of social media is only a problem if it is actually causing an issue in their lives, right? If the only issue is that you don’t get it or think it’s vain or annoying…that’s not really a problem in their lives. Know what I mean? You clearly don’t value social media like they do, and that’s OK, but try to respect their values.
Your job is to pay attention to things when they become a problem. When they interfere with school, cause social issues, lead to disconnection within the family, or distract your child from living a balanced and healthy life. Only then do you need to worry about making a change. Other than those things, let your child revel in the goodness and often hilarity of social media, because like I said, it isn’t inherently bad.
5 Ways To Help Your Teens Manage Social Media Usage
Some parents will determine that their son or daughter is online a little too much or that their activity isn’t healthy. For those of you in that position, here are 5 effective ways to begin addressing the issue and making lasting changes within the family.
1.Set a Good Example
I put this first because as parents, we must accept that our kids are watching us and often follow in our footsteps. If we aren’t mindful with how we engage with social media, and with all technology for that matter, we cannot be surprised when our kids wind up with a technology addiction.
An essential step in managing how your child uses social media is to establish excellent boundaries around your own use and show them how this is done. Most kids have few to no good examples of how to moderate their technology use – how could they even imagine making a change if thay can’t see anyone in their lives limiting their digital usage?
So please, take this point to heart. Begin by taking a honest and detailed look at how much you use social media, what purpose it serves, and whether or not you think you are modelling healthy boundaries.
And if you aren’t happy with what you realize, trust that you can make a change that will have a positive outcome for you and your child.
2.Teach Tech Etiquette
I love this phrase, tech etiquette. It’s just perfect. I believe that tech etiquette may actually be more important that things like table manners.
Think about it: we have meals for a short amount of time each day (and families are hardly even eating together anymore). But we are all plugged in more and more each day. It is absolutely essential that parents teach their kids about how to be a respectful and engaged human within the digital work and in ‘real-life.’
How many times has someone run into you while texting and walking? And did you hear about people getting hit by cars and having major accidents while playing ‘Pokémon Go’ because they walked around while looking at their phones? It’s totally ridiculous, but most of us do it to some extent.
We need to teach our kids how to find a balance between the digital and tangible world. For example, they simply cannot walk around while looking at their phones. They cannot cut off a face-to-face conversation to check their Instagram feed. And families shouldn’t allow cell phones to sit on the kitchen table during meal-time.
This is all about socializing your child and showing them how to responsibility and respectfully use this technology. Without your guidance, they will be rude and disrespectful without even knowing it. And this isn’t really fair at all.
3.Monitor Online Activities
It’s your job is to know what your kids are getting into. Monitoring online activities doesn’t mean that you have to know exactly what they are saying to their friends or what they’re posting to the public, but you should have a general sense of how they are spending their time. You need to know what has caught their attention, what pulls them back to their phones over and over again, and who they are interacting with.
I absolutely support giving your kids age-appropriate levels of privacy and minding-your-own-business. In my opinion, it’s unfair to demand access to your teens’ messaging or other social media apps.
Can you imagine the anger and humiliation that would have arisen if your parents knew what you wrote in all those paper notes or over ICQ messenger? Ugh, makes me sick just thinking about it.
And that said, there are real risks (like online predators and nasty bullies) that can put your child in danger. So tune in, pay attention, but keep your relationship with your teen in mind at all times. In other words, don’t demand access to accounts out of curiosity because this will damage your relationship. If there is reason to be concerned (maybe you’ve been told about inappropriate texts, your child has gotten in trouble at school relating to cellphone use, or your child is incredibly secretive and possessive over their phones), then consider requesting access.
Bottom line is, you need to have ongoing conversations with your teen about their involvement in the online world so you are in-the-know, up-to-date, and ready to support and guide them when needed.
4.Create Family Boundaries and Limits
Every family should consider establishing clear boundaries around social media and technology use, regardless of whether or not any family member is perceived as having an addiction. It isn’t hard (as must of us know) to allow social media to creep into family, work, or even sleep time so do everyone a favour and put some simple rules in place.
A great place to start is establishing a phone free time, maybe after 8pm, where nobody in the family gets to use their phones. Or maybe there is a designated internet/social media surfing time because let’s face it, many people enjoy this mindless surfing as part of their unwinding routine. So maybe the family has free access from 7-8pm, then the phones all go to the charging station in the kitchen until the next morning.
Consider making a ‘no phones in bedrooms’ rule, and if your teen sneaks up in the night to use their phone, then put their charging station in your room.
As you can see, there are many ideas that may or may not work for you. Think about what feels right, where you are most wanting to see a change, and create a family rule around this.
And expect resistance and anger (which you know by now is not your primary concern. They’ll be mad, and that’s okay).
5.Social Media as Privilege
My last general recommendation to better manage how your teen engages with social media is to adopt the mindset that phones and social media are a privilege. Despite what your child might say, having constant access to social media is not a basic need. Your child does not have the right to a smart phone and free access to social media and the internet.
Parent’s often get caught up because they truly believe that their kids need a cell phone for safety reasons and to stay connected. Okay, I get this. I won’t talk to you about how we all survived without phones because I honestly think that’s out-dated and unrealistic.
But what I will say is that there are many phones that are not smart phones. Not all phones have the capability of running apps and connecting to the web.
So please, seriously consider this. Maybe you decide that your teen can earn smart phone privilege’s but they are certainly not entitled to them. Maybe you purchase a cheap call-only phone that you can switch into rotation if your teen slips up or shows you they can’t responsibly manage? That way you’re maintaining necessary communication but taking away web-capacities.
I get that you also might worry about socially ostracising your teen, which is a valid concern. So instead of taking away their smartphone for all time or making them delete social media accounts (devastating for a teen!), you might just have then use the ‘lame-phone’ for a short period of time. Even one day would be a sting.
One interesting idea is to create a social media or smart phone contract for your kids that outlines your expectations as well as the agreed upon consequences, like this one.
The key point is this: Social media is a privilege, not an automatic right.
Putting It All Together
When it seems like your teen is obsessed with social media, it might be daunting to know how to restore a healthy tech balance. Getting your head wrapped around today’s most popular social media platforms, and how to manage social media use within your family, is no easy feat.
With changing trends, new apps, and your child’s unique social situation and personality, it’s no wonder you are looking for clarity and solutions!
But with increased awareness about social media in general, a clear understanding of it’s role in your family, and a strategy to make a change, you are on your way to creating more balance in your family.