Social Media Overload
Whether it’s Tik Tok, Instagram, YouTube or any other popular social media websites, if you have a teenager, more than likely they are deeply engaged with their social media family as you read this sentence. Technology has stolen our teen's attention, and it seems close to impossible to get it back.
With the ease of checking notifications on our smartphones, many teens find themselves checking for updates, posts, and the newest YouTube video on their phones. This can lead to checking in numerous times throughout the day. Some teens spend hours consuming and posting before they even realize how much time they have spent on social media, leading to social media overload. Social media overload can disconnect your teen from friends and family and can also take a toll on their mental wellbeing. As scary as that sounds, there is no need to stress over the amount of time your teen is spending on social media. There are ways to re-engage your teen and bring them back amongst the family. I will share with you helpful tips to get your teen off the screen so they can enjoy themselves in real life.
The goal is not to ban social media altogether, but to help bring balance between experiencing the world around them and having time to plug into the web. We don’t want our teens to resent us for trying to keep them off their devices/second hand. We want to encourage them to be mindful of their screen time and not to overindulge. Given the choice your teen may be plugged in morning, noon, and night, let's help them see that logging off can be fun and painless.
Signs of Social Media Overload
Before I jump into the tips, you may be wondering when it is time to be concerned about social media overload. Here are some things to look out for:
1. Sleep deprivation: not getting enough sleep can be a result of spending too much time online. Instead of catching up on much needed rest, many teens spend hours on social media platforms instead of getting a good night’s rest. Sleep deprivation can lead to a lack of concentration, irritability, anxiety, and depression. Turning off the phones, computers and tablets will not only help with getting uninterrupted sleep but can also help prevent mental and physical burnout that can come from lack of sleep.
2. Low self-esteem: social media is a place where people are oversharing and comparing. This can contribute to feeling not good enough, attractive enough, smart enough, and the list goes on. If you notice a change in your teen’s demeanor, feeling self-conscious about their appearance, maybe it is time to disconnect from the web.
3. Lack of interest in social activities: social media can interfere with face-to-face interactions and connections. Followers and likes have taken the place of real friendships. Losing friendships and frequently declining offers to spend time with family can be a sign that your teen may need to forego the game rooms and reconnect with the people around them.
4. Difficulty building authentic friendships/relationships. Technology has made it easier to connect with so many people at a surface level, however, these connections can be misinterpreted as real friendships. Teens who predominantly seek connections online have a difficult time making connections in real life. Face to face interactions become stressful, even phone conversations are overwhelming. This is due to the lack of practice with real life interactions, learning how to read social cues, and building rapport.
This list is not all inclusive, however this is a good place to start when observing your teen’s behavior. It is important to remember that there is no need to turn this into a battle with your teen. The goal is to incorporate other fun and engaging options to help your teen want to disconnect. If they think they are being forced to reduce screen time, they are more likely to want to rebel and push back.
Now that we addressed some of the warning signs of social media overload, here are some tips to help re-engage your teen.
Tips for Balancing Social Media Use
Taking a break from social media has to become a family affair. Start by having casual conversations about social media. Let the first conversation be a lighthearted conversation about some of the good things social media can be useful for, such as connecting with friends and family. This approach helps your teen understand that you are not against social media or judging them, which decreases their likelihood of them becoming defensive. Also, try to get some insight on what sites your teen spends the most time using throughout the day. This is helpful because it can identify some of the things your teen is interested in but hasn’t shared with the family. Having healthy and open conversations about social media is important because it allows you as the parent to have access to what your teen is doing, and to begin to set expectations as to what is acceptable for your teen.
1. Start by becoming more active yourself. Take the time to connect with your teen and learn about what they are interested in online and offline. If they are spending hours gaming, learn about the games they are playing and who they are playing with. Are they playing with strangers or people they know in real life? The goal is to encourage interactions with people they know in real life. It will be easier to transition to more face-to-face interactions if they are connected to other teens they know personally.
2. Be the example you want them to be. It is important to model the behavior you want to see in your teens. That means, you have to disconnect from your phone, tablet, or computer. Show your teen that you can take a break from the internet and interact with the real world and the people around you. This can include inviting friends and family over, or visiting friends and family instead of using Facebook or Instagram to chat. You can also take up a new hobby that involves hands-on participation, instead of virtual activities. Remember this is a lifestyle change for all involved. The changes you want to see, you also have to be willing to make for yourself.
3. Once you are able to get an idea of who your teen is connecting with online, you can work on setting up opportunities for “play dates''. Of course, you are not actually setting up play dates for your teen, however you may arrange activities that your teen can do along with their real life friends. For example, offer to take them hiking, fishing, or skating. They may not like your suggestions, however, get the conversation started. Follow up by asking them, would they like to do, and offer to take them and pick them up. Again, you want to make it seem as if they are coming up with the idea to disconnect and spend quality time with friends. This decreases the level of push back from them if they have buy-in.
4. This next step is a more direct approach that requires input from the whole family. Set up a family meeting to discuss ways to incorporate family time. This can be something as simple as once a month we will play board games/card games together or go for a walk as a family. This stage is brainstorming ideas that the entire family can do together that your teen would enjoy. Therefore, it is important to make sure your teen provides suggestions on things they would like to do as a family. Once you are able to come up with a list of activities that you can do with your family, make sure to follow through. The more you spend time together doing things that you all enjoy, the deeper the connection you will build with your teen.
5. Lastly, be flexible. Now that you have helped your teen disconnect from the web, they may feel more motivated to find ways to be more social in real life. This may mean driving them to activities more frequently or adding another day to your monthly family time. Try to be as supportive as possible (within reason) when your teen opens up to spending more time with friends and family.
Navigating the teen years in the age of technology can be tricky. Sometimes even with the best of intentions, we just don’t get it right. If you are having a difficult time with your teen and all of your efforts seem to make things worse, you are not alone. There is help out there, and the Center for Growth is here to help you and your teen reconnect and resolve conflict. We have therapists that specialize in teen development and family dynamics. If you would like help navigating social media with your teen, please reach out to 215-922-5683 x 100 or schedule directly online. For your convenience, we have five in-person offices and can also provide counseling and therapy virtually.