Help your teen manage their social media usage

Young male using phone in dark

More parents are sharing their concerns about their teenager’s use of social media, so you’re not alone if this is something that’s worrying you. It’s important to understand that these platforms are a huge part of how teenagers communicate with their friends and understand the world. Even when their use of social media is distracting, or even harmful, most young people feel they still need to use it, that their lives are dependent on it, and so wouldn’t consider quitting it entirely.

Many teenagers have found that the best way forward is to change the way they interact with these platforms. Instead of ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’, they can use techniques and tools that increase their positive experiences and reduce the negative ones.

Talk about their positive and negative experiences of social media

Instead of just talking about negatives, ask your teenager what they enjoy about social media. Here are some examples of what they might like:

  • staying in contact with their friends and family

  • seeing uplifting, artistic, inspiring or educational content

  • organising events with their friends, co-workers or sports team

  • using it as a creative outlet

  • using it to take their mind off things.

Here are some examples of what they might not enjoy. They may not like:

  • feeling distracted during study time, or even during leisure time

  • seeing posts that make them feel insecure about their life or the way they look

  • seeing content which could be leading to a negative view of the world

  • feeling pressured to support family and friends who are going through a rough time.

Once you know what your teen considers the up-sides and down-sides of social media use, it’s easier to make a plan with them that helps them to keep the parts they like and get rid of those they don’t.

If your teenager can’t think of many positives, this conversation might help them realise that although they’re spending a lot of time on social media, they may not actually be getting a lot out of it.

Help them clean up their feed

One of the easiest ways to improve your teenager’s digital habits is to help them make decisions about what they see on their social feeds every day.

  • Your teen might find it helpful to ‘clean up’ their feed by removing certain types of content from it entirely. For example, they might find news and politics content on Instagram to be troubling or distracting. If they ‘unlike’ all the news and politics pages they follow, they can leave that platform free just for things that make them feel good.

  • It’s also a good idea to find accounts that help create positive feelings. For example, if your teen likes art, helping them find painters, photographers or illustrators to follow can be inspiring and help balance out the negative stuff.

Do they have certain friends whose posts make them feel bad? One solution to this might be to ‘mute’ or ‘unfollow’ those people. This will mean they’ll stay ‘friends’, but your teen just won’t see any of their posts.

  • On Instagram, they can tap the dropdown menu next to their friend’s username and tap ‘mute’.

  • On Facebook, they can tap on the menu next to their friend’s name and tap ‘unfollow’.

Digital wellbeing tools

Once your teenager is aware of what good and bad social media habits look like, there are heaps of tools that can inform them about their use and help them set boundaries for themselves. Even easier, many of these are already installed and ready to use on their device.

A screenshot of the iOS 'Screen Time' feature on a blue background.

Apple’s ‘Screen Time’

What is it?

  • ‘Screen Time’ is a digital wellbeing tool found on almost every iPhone and iPad. It allows users to see how much time they’ve spent on various apps and to set healthy limits for themselves.

How can my teenager use it?

  • They can check how much time they’re spending on each app per day, per week or per month.

  • They can see how much time they’re spending on each category, such as ‘games’, ‘social media’ or ‘entertainment’.

  • They can put hard limits on their app usage, to avoid wasting time.

Where do they find it?

It’s in the ‘Settings’ app.

A screenshot from the Android operating system's 'Digital Wellbeing' feature on a blue background.

Android’s ‘Digital Wellbeing’

What is it?

If your teenager has a smartphone that isn’t an iPhone, it probably runs Google’s Android operating system. ‘Digital Wellbeing’ is a useful tool on Android smartphones that can help users create healthy social media habits.

How can my teenager use it?

  • They can track their most-used apps, to see where they’re spending their time.

  • They can set a timer on addictive social media apps, to limit their use to a certain amount of time per day.

  • They can create a nightly ‘bedtime’ when they won’t receive notifications. This is helpful if their smartphone usage is getting in the way of healthy sleep patterns.

Where do they find it?

It’s in the ‘Settings’ app.

The icon for the app 'Forest' on a blue background.

‘Forest’

What is it?

The ‘Forest’ app for smartphones and web browsers can help your teenager focus and block out distractions. It allows the user to set a timer for anywhere between ten minutes and two hours. The version of the app for web browsers allows the user to block specific sites.

How can my teenager use it?

They can block social media distractions during study time, relaxation time or even leisure time.

Where do they find it?

The version for web browsers is only available for Google Chrome and Firefox. Search for ‘Forest’ in the Chrome web store or in the Firefox Add-ons store. The version for smartphones can be found by searching for ‘Forest’ in the iOS App Store or the Google Play Store.

Other tips

  • Social media use can affect your teen’s sleep patterns, and not just because of the type of light that smartphone screens produce. Many teens scroll compulsively through apps like TikTok or Instagram in bed before they go to sleep. A great tip to help with this is for your teen to charge their phone outside their room at night.

  • A few of the solutions listed above involve setting limits for how long certain apps can be used each day. Be realistic with these goals: for most young people, spending less than half an hour on social media a day just isn’t possible.

Did you find what you needed?

  • Yes - Check out our guide on staying up to date with social media trends.