(8 Minute read)
I recently interviewed Dr. Ryan Anderson on my podcast, Not By Chance, to discuss social media, how it affects teens, and how parents can help their teens use it effectively and responsibly.
Dr. Anderson earned a Master\’s degree in marriage and family therapy, a PhD in medical and family therapy, and completed his internship at the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center. He has also worked as a wilderness therapist, taught college courses to first-year med students, and is involved in community outreach. Aside from these accomplishments, Dr. Anderson worked in video game design and software development. His interest in the digital world combined with his professional career in the mental health field led him to study their correlation.
In this blog post, we will share insights about teens, social media’s effect on them, setting social media expectations, and how to help your teens develop a healthy relationship with social media.
There are many pros and cons of social media when it comes to teenagers, and while it can be a scary thing to deal with, there are genuine benefits if parents are diligent in teaching their children how to use it.
Social Media: Pros & Cons
When you think of social media, you might think of the negativity that comes with it. While there are plenty of cons, there are also plenty of pros that people tend to overlook. Here are some of the positive and negative sides of social media, according to Dr. Anderson:
Pros of Social Media:
- Can be a force for good in society.
- Allows individuals to rally around good causes.
- Spread awareness of events, movements, and causes.
- It’s a space of collaboration where people can share experiences.
- We can learn from others’ unique experiences.
- Makes it easier to stay in touch with family and friends.
Cons of Social Media:
- It can create tension within relationships (following/not following).
- Give/take isn’t symmetrical—some people consume while some don’t, which leads to inauthentic relationships.
- Social media can make you think you know someone intimately when in reality, you only understand that person based on their social media highlight reel.
- It can be dangerous mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
- Teens can lose their sense of worth and identity when they become too invested in social media.
- Parents and Social Media: What You Need to Know
As a parent you want to protect your child, but there are many real dangers on social media, and it can be tempting to ban it altogether. It’s also hard to keep up with all of the updates, new apps, and trends. Your teen tells you TikTok is just for singing and dancing—but is that the only way people use it? Some parents will monitor their teens’ social media activity, while others shy away from it in the name of privacy.
Dr. Anderson and I agree that teaching your teenagers how to use social media correctly will help them better manage it in their everyday lives, especially when they reach adulthood. It is part of life, and when you set boundaries from the beginning and stick to them, you set your teens up for success. Teaching healthy social media habits includes having productive conversations when you start seeing negative effects or patterns.
Here are a few discussion topics Dr. Anderson suggests to guide your conversations about social media:
You are the product: Social media algorithms know you very well. They know your interests, scrolling habits, and even moods, and they’ll do everything to keep you on the app. Being aware of this can help teens know what is happening and understand why limiting screen time is vital to their mental health.
Catfishing: Catfishing occurs when someone pretends to be another person on social media. They could pose as teens to connect with your children when they could be predators or scammers. Have these discussions with your kids and make sure they only connect with people they know personally. And if something feels off, it probably is. Catfish can also pose as people your children know in real life.
You are the target: Not all scammers and predators are catfish, but they are good at what they do. Scammers target the elderly because they are vulnerable, and they target teens for the opposite reason—they think they’re invincible and could never fall for a scam. Helping your teens recognize when something feels wrong can give them the knowledge they need to stay safe.
Social media is permanent: Help your teens understand that once their content has been posted or sent, it belongs to the social media platform. There is no getting it back, and even if it disappears or gets deleted, it lives on in a database that could be hacked, leaked, or even sold. The same goes for Snapchat, even though the photos “disappear.”
Keeping Teens Safe on Social Media
Social media does have a lot of pros, even though there are some scary and concerning aspects. Working with your kids and teaching them how to use social media positively will let them experience the benefits and set them up for success when they reach adulthood.
Dr. Anderson uses the analogy of teaching a teenager how to drive. You wouldn’t just hand them the keys and say “don’t crash,” so why would you download Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or TikTok to their phone and say “don’t use this the wrong way”? Just like your teen needs guidance, lessons, and practice driving a car, they need the same when they’re learning to use social media.
When you help your teen understand the dangers of social media and how to overcome them, they\’ll understand how to have a positive experience overall.
Developing a Healthy Relationship with Social Media
Fostering and developing healthy social media habits takes time, practice, trial, error, and self-awareness. Here are a few suggestions about how to start building that healthy relationship so you can help your teens do the same:
- Turn social media notifications off—it can wait.
- Don’t be on every platform—the more you let in, the more you have to process.
- Have a time and place for social media—it shouldn’t be available 24/7.
- Take breaks—when you start to feel a shift in your mental health, it’s time to unplug.
- Be careful and know the potential risks.
- Research every app thoroughly before downloading it.
Social media has its pros and cons, but when you teach your teenagers how to navigate it correctly and how to create healthy habits, you can set them up for success in the future.