Yes, You and Your Teens Need a Break from Social Media

Find out how you all can take much-needed breaks from tech and develop healthy habits around social media, gaming, and devices.  

entire family using devices in kitchen

Photo by Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

We have #selfcaresunday, but did you know that digital self-care is a thing—especially with teens? When we are thinking of self-care and de-stressing our teen's lives, tech is at the top of the list. The Washington Post reported in May 2018 that researchers found a 20% increase in diagnoses of anxiety between 2007 and 2018 for children ages 6 to 18—due in large part to excessive time spent on social media, as well as FOMO (fear of missing out), comparisons to others, and overexposure to the headlines and explicit content.

The problem

We have come a long way in our efforts to make sure we are staying mentally and emotionally healthy and finding balance in our teen's lives. Many of us have cut back on their activities, make sure they are home for dinner, and that they go to bed at a decent hour. The challenge is teens have their smartphones with them during all of those activities, especially bedtime, so they aren’t experiencing true breaks.

For example, I recently led a social media and digital well-being workshop at a middle school. I asked 300 seventh graders what time they put their phones, tablets, and Xboxes away and actually go to sleep most nights. For 12 am, more than 70% raised their hands, and by 4 a.m. about 30% of their hands were still raised. As we know, lack of sleep is a huge part of mood swings, lack of focus, and other health challenges.

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What can parents do?

Teach them to daydream.
As parents we know what it’s like to live app free, so even though it’s hard for us as well, we know the peace that comes from taking a break from the constant digital noise. My daughter says she’s bored when she isn’t looking at her device. I respond by telling her to find something to look at or think about. I grew up traveling in a trailer and spent hours staring out the car window daydreaming. I feel the need to teach my kids how to stare out windows and dream.

Help them realize the source of a pain or negative feeling may be their devices.
Social media and tech have a lot of positives—inspiration, support, etc.—and a many negatives, which I see as anxiety accelerators. Sometimes our teens don’t realize their effects until they step back from tech. It’s like your child consistently complaining of a stomachache. When you eliminate dairy (or some other food group) they are back to their happy energized self. You didn’t know that food was the cause so they continued to live with the stomach ache until they took a break and felt so much better. That’s how I see social media and online gaming for our teens. They may be feeling extra stressed, insecure, depressed and don’t realize that the cause is what they are experiencing on their devices until they take some time off and see for themselves how much better they feel.

Tip 1: Find a Screening of This Movie (if possible)
A great starting point is to find a screening of the movie “LIKE”  a documentary about the impact of social media on our lives. After you watch it will be easier to begin a discussion with your child, and then begin to practice some of these digital self-care suggestions. Remember, this is brand new territory that we are all learning to navigate.

Tip 2: Take a Break and Start Small
Isaac Rochell, a 24-year-old defensive end for the Los Angeles Chargers, started a fantastic social media movement called #SeeYouOnSunday that encourages his followers to take Saturdays off from social media, a very doable digital self-care.

The key is replacing tech with something fun. What activity has your teen always wanted to try? Here are some ideas:

  • Bring back family & friends board game nights
  • Have friends over to game instead of talking over the game all the time
  • Try a family 3-day road trip or a staycation
  • Go to an escape room or a city scavenger hunt
  • Go fishing
  • Go-carting, off-roading, etc.
  • Camping/glamping or hiking
  • Going to their favorite concert
  • If you don’t have a pool at home, spend a weekend at a hotel with one

Once your teen gets used to being away from tech, they may notice that they aren’t feeling the emotional ups and downs that they typically experience. They realize they are able to be more present with their face-to-face relationships and focus on what they are doing. When they return to tech, I suggest they write down when they feel “triggered,” when they feel a negative response.

Tip 3: Teach Boundaries and Healthy Digital Self-Care Habits
Now that your teen has uncovered some triggers, set up some healthy digital boundaries. Use tools on devices, such as screen time and app limits. Consider even deleting some apps. Work with them to write out their digital standards and boundaries based on their own self-care evaluation. You may be thinking, this is way over my teen’s head. Today in school and with the influence of social media, most teens know all about self-care and community kindness. They may not practice it when it comes to their digital lives, but these are not foreign concepts. See the articles below for reference:

The goal is to help our kids understand that there is no distinction between who they are on their screens and who they are in their “real lives.” It’s all real life, with real-life consequences.

Everyday Healthy Digital Self-Care Tips

Journal
Teach them to journal their feelings, life, and challenges rather than use social media as a social “diary.”

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Seek real advice
Share their challenges and feelings with face-to-face relationships. When they share their vulnerable moments online they aren’t getting helpful or genuine responses that they would get with friends, mentors, and parents in their lives.

Go tech-free regularly
Tech-free family and friend time. One idea is tech-free walks after dinner.

  • Start to practice #SeeYouOnSunday, Saturdays off from social media.
  • Have your kids decorate “the phone home”—a box or drawer to put their devices in somewhere in the house. The phones have to go home at a certain time. You can use the iPhone screen time settings to help with this.

Encourage creativity and positivity
Encourage your teen create a social media account (Instagram, Facebook page or YouTube channel) that supports their art or gets a positive message out to help them use social media to help themselves and others.

Tip 4: Do It Together
We as adults are also on our devices a lot. When we lead by example, and our teens are more likely to demonstrate healthy screen habits if they see us doing the same. I suggest that the entire family does the self-care of your choice together, so it doesn’t feel like a punishment and you will all grow together. It is also great to get communities together to do some of the practices.

Kacee Bree Jensen is the founder of Let's Talk Teens, a place parents and teens can go to find resources and tools to navigate the modern world we are living in. Kacee is a youth advocate, speaker, contributor, parenting coach, and mom of four including a teen, who has spent the last 16 years helping families, schools, and communities across the country navigate the ups and downs of the teen years.