A study released by the British Psychological Society last week shows the consuming drive of many teens to stay on social media for all hours of the day and night contributes directly to sleep problems, depression, and anxiety. Two factors that are particularly problematic are excessive late night social media use and a compulsive drive to access and respond to social media posts immediately. As parents, we must remain vigilant that the fun and connection opportunities of social media can have a very real dark side. And our teens are still maturing. They still need our guidance to help them make better choices and live well in the midst of their world of digital bombardment. Here are some important ways parents can help our teens:
1. Stay connected with them digitally. Insist on the rule that they must allow you, as their parent, to friend or follow them on their various social media outlets. If they put up a fight at this, help them see this is a better alternative to you constantly checking their digital devices with or without their knowledge. That bit of perspective might help them find a more cooperative spirit. But you must also remember that the way you interact with them in the social media realm makes a HUGE impact in their attitude toward you. Don’t be an online pest, constantly making public comments just because you can. Unless you want your teen to despise you. Be proactive and respectful as you remain connected and vigilant of their social media presence and actions.
2. Impose a digital curfew. Even for teens who have shown responsibility and maturity with their social media use, it will benefit them to turn off and turn in their screens at a designated time each evening. (You will have to decide whether or not you will personally look through their phones and computers while in your possession. I will offer a post soon with pros and cons of this issue, helping guide you to the best decision for your teen and family.) They may want to stay up late interacting with their friends and sharing their brilliance with the world, but they will be far more effective in friendships, schoolwork, and everything they do if they are getting the sleep they need. Help them get it – even if they “hate” you for it.
3. Have regular screen-free family windows. Pick one night a week and one time frame during the weekend to have a family time of interaction or quiet recharging with no digital interference. On the designated weeknight, you might allow for thirty minutes of screen time right after school or right before bedtime, but put away the screens for the bulk of the evening. During your “digital blackout,” you might play a family game such as Settlers of Catan, Monopoly, Ticket to Ride, or whatever’s your thing. Another great option is to have a time of family devotional, reading, prayer, or discussion that centers around character qualities you want to develop in every member of your family. You might just enjoy some quiet personal reading time, or maybe you tackle a household chore or improvement project together. However you use this time, the aim is to remind your kids and yourself that there are so many more important elements in life than the latest trend on Twitter or Snapchat.
4. Have times of fun social media sharing with one another. We don’t want to present an attitude and message to our teens that social media is simply a negative force that must be limited or criticized by us as much as possible. That is neither helpful nor healthy. Let’s take the lead in showing our teens how digital connection can be a very positive force in their lives, if they choose to use it this way. One fun way to do this is to have an occasional “Digital Diner” night as a family. Everyone must bring their smartphone, tablet, or laptop to the table. Have two rules: All conversation with each other must be digital via the devices you have at hand and everyone must do their best to share things with one another that you really think the other family members will enjoy and appreciate. Keep it positive and uplifting. Don’t be critical. Show your teens you can have plenty of fun while exercising respect and restraint.
5. Make God’s Word your primary guide to navigating social media waters. Have a monthly family devotional where you actively seek and reflect on God’s guidance for how you conduct yourselves as you interact with people and digital devices. Here is one passage of Scripture that I highly recommend for these critical conversations:
“That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. ‘In your anger do not sin‘: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
– Ephesians 4:20-32