Some days were made for technology. You sit down to watch a show on Netflix and before you know it, you’ve gone through an entire season in a day. Whether you call it binge-watching or therapy, It happens to all of us. You may even let it happen with your kids from time to time.
But while the occasional indulgence is understandable, it can quickly get excessive. Common Sense Media, a nonprofit aimed at cultivating tech media-savvy families, conducted a 2015 study of teens’ online behavior. The organization found that on average, adolescents spend nearly nine hours a day online. Unfortunately, all that screen-time has an impact far beyond “rotting the brain,” as my grandmother would say.
Teens using social media are exposed to countless idealized images of their peers as well as celebrities. Some 2.7 percent of teenage girls struggle with an eating disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It’s clear that our digital culture is cultivating poor body image, self-hatred, and envy among many young people.
It’s important to strike a balance between self-expression and the obsession with image, but teens need our help to do it. Here are some ways to help your teen navigate the tricky world of social media.
1. Help Them Keep Some Perspective
Have you seen all those people on Facebook––happy, with flawless complexions and beach bodies? Those photos aren’t real. People on social media, particularly image-conscious teens, spend a lot of time and effort cultivating an enviable digital presence.
According to a recent study by the University of California, the main concern teens have when they are online is the kind of image they present. A 2016 TIME magazine article refers to social media as “a toxic mirror.” Earlier this year, psychologists found robust cross-cultural evidence linking social media use to body image concerns, dieting, body surveillance, a drive for thinness and self-objectification in adolescents.
Talk to your teens about how many people enhance their so-called candid shots with filters and digital manipulation tools like Photoshop. Point out how each person’s feed is curated, with only their positive moments shared and only their best-looking pictures posted. Help them to understand how easy it is to manipulate an online persona. Anything to show that things aren’t always what they seem.
2. Have Them Evaluate Their Social Media Posts
Want a good way to illustrate the above? Let them go through their own posts. Does it show a genuine reality, or are things skewed? Chances are, they’ll see that the moments they shared look more exciting and rosy than they actually were.
3. Set “No Screen” Times
Everyone should have time during their day where they are away from their screens, which can be hard for a teen to do on their own. Set times in the morning when they first wake up and in the evening where no screens are allowed. It can help to make charging stations in another room, like the kitchen.
4. Enjoy Family Meals Together
Mealtimes provide an excellent opportunity for a family to connect, emphasizing the importance of being together instead of just texting one another. Even sharing one meal a day can have a real effect. Feel free to invite friends along as well!
5. Make Time For Real Life Adventures
My kids and I spend a day hiking every other week. We also have a weekly family game night along with a movie night. Friends are allowed at these events, but phones are not.
I suggest that you organize real-world events for your family and friends as well. Spending time face-to-face, looking real rather than perfect and having fun, can change all of our perspectives on technology.
Tyler Jacobson – Father of three and avid outdoor enthusiast – has been juggling life with kids for around 18 years. He’s learned a thing or two about parenting and has turned from a full time career in digital media to helping fellow parents of teenagers. He pulls from his own life experiences raising spunky, free-spirited children, as well as his work with various organizations that help teens be their best selves. During his free time, Tyler enjoys taking his family into the mountains to connect with a simpler side of life which he finds grounding and rejuvenating.