Social Distancing Meets Social Media: Expert Tips For Parents of Teens and Tweens During The Pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on teenagers' social lives and regular developmental activities in profound ways. Although children and adults of all ages may feel lonely during this period of physical separation, the effects of being separated from friends may be particularly severe for teenagers. Simply put, during the developmental time when they are socially and biologically motivated to be with their peers, adolescents have been forced to stay physically isolated with their families. So, how are teens and tweens supposed to cope with this new reality? Understandably, many teens have turned to social media, which allows them to stay socially connected despite being physically apart—but also poses specific challenges for both teens and their parents. 

According to a report from Common Sense Media, 90% of teens use some form of social media, and more than half (51%) of all teens check their social networking site at least once a day. Despite this, 43% of teens express a desire to disconnect sometimes, 41% say they are “addicted” to their mobile devices, and 36% say they wish they could go back to a time when there was no Facebook.  

On JustAnswer, mental health experts such as Jen Kelman have seen a surge in questions from parents watching their kids suffer through social isolation, anxiety, and depression, along with a host of learning and social problems attributed to social media and device addiction. 

 

Top 4 pandemic-related mental health questions parents have this year  

Wondering what parents like yourself are concerned about? 

1) How should parents manage disputes on social media and device usage?  

2) How should parents be communicating with their child about social media?  

3) How can parents tell if there's a more serious issue that needs more help?   

4) What mistakes or traps do I need to avoid in this area as a parent? 

 

Q&A with a mental health Expert 

Read on as Jen Kelman, LCSW, CPC (Certified and Licensed Clinical Social Worker on JustAnswer) gives pandemic-related mental health answers to help your child balance the risks and rewards of social media. 

 

Q: How should parents set limits and/or manage disputes on social media and device usage? 

A: Focus on balance.  Make sure your children participate in offline social interaction and have time for activities that help them develop their identity and self-confidence. 

Have your teen turn off notifications. App developers are becoming more competitive with notifications to entice users to leave what they're doing and spend more time on their phones. Don't let them. 

Teach mindful use of social media. Encourage teens to be honest with themselves about how time spent on social media makes them feel and to disengage from interactions that make them feel stressed or unhappy. 

Model restraint in your own media consumption. Set a good example by disconnecting from outside influences to spend quality family time together, including “no phone” dinners and other activities. Kids may object, but they will reap the benefits. 

Require phone-free time before sleep. Enforce a rule of no smartphones in the bedroom after a specific time and overnight. Give your kids an old-fashioned alarm clock to wake up. 

 

Q: How should parents be communicating with their child about social media? 

A: Have an open discussion about the dangers of social media but also the wonderful things that can take place by being connected to others.  

Teens who feel understood, supported, accepted, and safe are better able to make it through adverse times. Ask what they like about the platforms and sites they use. What is it about the community that makes them feel like they belong? Ask who they follow on social media, why, and what they like about them. Show interest in their online activities and try not to judge. 

 

Q: How can parents tell if there's a more serious issue with their child that needs more attention or help? 

A: Pay close attention to social media if your kid is showing signs of struggling offline. If a child's behavior starts to change when they are not using the device, then it is time to take a deeper look. If they are more withdrawn, not participating in usual activities, moody, and only "connecting" on their devices, it is time to get some professional help for them. Also pay attention to their mood shifts based on likes, retweets, and so forth. 

It's important not to oversimplify social media by believing that it's unilaterally "helpful" or "harmful" for teens. Keep in mind that social media can be both beneficial and detrimental to teenagers in different ways and at different times. 

 

Q: What mistakes or traps do I need to avoid in this area as a parent?  

A: Think twice before you take the phone away. 

Before taking away the phone or tablet as punishment for their behavior, think about whether they’re using the device to cope with mental health problems. Despite its flaws, social media can help kids stay connected to friends, find a support group, and get reliable mental health information. If you still need to take away the device, make sure they have access to alternative outlets and resources. 

Final Tip: The "not my child" feelings that occur with most parents, can sometimes blind us to things our children might get involved with. Be open and communicate with your child regarding social media, establish rules with boundaries, and—most importantly—stick to them. 

 

About Jen 

Jen Kelman, LCSW, CPC, has three decades of mental health experience and has been answering questions on JustAnswer since 2012.  Jen is a licensed clinical social worker, life coach, and parenting expert who helps hundreds of parents a week on JustAnswer in addition to seeing patients in her private practice. Jen is ready to discuss concerns about social media boundaries for tweens and teens, warning signs of depression or anxiety in your child, and when to seek help. 

Do you have other parenting questions that weren’t answered above? Ask a parenting question on JustAnswer to get a personalized response from certified parenting Experts like Jen 24/7.