Are you worried about the effect social media has on your teen and their mental health? Are you wondering what happened to the carefree child whose head is now buried in their phone? If you feel you have lost your teen to the grip of social media, you can get them back. With God’s help, you can help your teen develop healthy social media habits in today’s digital age.
Healthy Habits In A Digital Age: How To Get Your Teenager Back
Don’t Shrink Back
Every parent wants to help their kids develop healthy habits as they grow. We train them to brush their teeth, respect their elders and eat their broccoli, but we often shrink from teaching them healthy ways to engage – or disengage – from social media.
Technology can be intimidating, but God’s wisdom still applies even in the uncharted territory of the 21st century.
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Let’s start by identifying the lure of social media and its effect on your teen. Then we’ll explore practical ways you can help your teen navigate the digital world.
The Lure of Social Media
Social media is a brilliantly designed reward system that offers instant gratification. Studies have shown that dopamine, the feel-good hormone, is released into the system when a social media post gets a positive response. Your teen’s self-esteem is boosted when they are “rewarded” with likes and comments.
Conversely, silence on social media is a death blow and can send your teen’s psyche tumbling down the deep path of depression. If your teen seems withdrawn, moody or anxious, the source may be a post that “wasn’t good enough” to warrant a response.
For many, the lure of social media is the opportunity to be someone else online. Teens are especially vulnerable in these formative years as they find their way into adulthood. They can be whoever they want to be online, presenting their “best” self or creating someone they wish they could be like.
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And for others, social media represents an escape from the real world and its pressures. The enemy of your child’s soul is not naïve to the struggles within your teen as hormones rage. Social media can turn into a tunnel of entertainment that plays on lust – an unquenchable desire for “more” or a sensual lust.
A 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 45 percent of 13 to 17-year-olds are online almost constantly – and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic. Study after study links increased social media use to increased depression and anxiety in teens. If you’re worried about the mental health of your tween or teen, your concerns about social media are valid.
Counteracting the Lure of Social Media
How can you counteract the lure of social media and its effect on your teen? Taking wise parental action with your teen begins with prayer and an honest evaluation of your own social media habits.
Have you been lured in by the very same reasons as your teen? Your honesty can pave the way for a fruitful discussion about social media with your teen and help you work together to establish healthy parameters.
Encourage conversation with non-judgmental questions like these:
What draws you to social media?
How do you feel when someone likes your posts?
How does it make you feel when people don’t respond to your posts?
Do you ever use social media as an escape from real life?
Of all your friends on social media, who do you consider true friends? Which ones would you call if you needed help – and know they would be there for you?
Do you ever feel depressed or angry after being on social media? What triggers those feelings?
Do you ever feel exhausted keeping up an image on social media?
What would you do if you had four extra hours every day?
How would you feel if you unplugged?
Helping your teen identify the effect of social media on their lives can help you walk together towards a better way to manage it.
Develop a Healthy Social Media Plan for Your Family
New studies by Barna Research reveal that teenagers welcome the guidance of their parents to develop healthy habits towards social media use. Here are some things other families have done to establish healthy parameters:
Become a Rewarder
Social media plays on your teen’s need for reward and encouragement. Don’t yield that area over to Instagram! Recognize and reward good work, a good attitude, or an area of improvement in their lives. One of the very best things you can do is point your teen to the Lord, who is the great rewarder.
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” – Hebrews 11:6 (NIV)
Set Up Tech-Free Zones in Your Home
Establish areas in your home where technology doesn’t rule. Create gathering places where your family can laugh and talk together without the disruption of a phone.
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Establish Time Limits for Social Media Use
Social media creates hyper-connectedness and can be exhausting. Time limits give your teen time to breathe and unplug.
Build Face-to-Face Friendships
Many teens miss out on the important social interactive growth of face-to-face relationships. Help them discover true friendships offline. It may require some logistical planning and time out of your schedule to help make this happen, but it’s worth it.
Plan Feel-Good Activities Together
Build your teen’s self-esteem by planning activities that help them see themselves as God sees them. Go rock climbing or hiking, plan an art evening or play a game of kickball. Find non-threatening activities that make everyone feel good about who they are.
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Help your teen discover what they’re good at and what they love. Go on field trips, explore vocations, schedule a career day at a nearby college. Support them in finding out who they are.
Practice Family Hospitality with Your Teen in Mind
Open your home for time with people you admire and your teen can emulate. Let them hear first-hand the stories of people who have overcome obstacles to become heroes in the faith. Help your teen dream about who they can become with a little perseverance.
Raising a teen isn’t an easy task in today’s social media-burdened society, but God will equip you for the task.
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