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5 Solid Steps to Guard Your Teen Against Social Media Addiction and Other Online Threats

Parents are concerned about social media addiction and how much time their teens spend on social networking sites. Seeing their kids on their phones or in front of their laptops frequently may lead parents to wonder, “Do we have an internet addiction problem?” 

The Negative Effects of Social Media Use  

The use of social media and technology keeps us connected to family and friends who live far away. It helps us find connections and validation from people who are interested in the same things we are. Social media has certainly helped us communicate, go to school, and do our jobs during the pandemic shutdowns.  

But problematic social media use can bring dangers, too. Besides things like cyberbullying and identity theft, social media platforms want to increase the amount of time we spend online — they have interests that go against our own well-being and affect our mental health.  

Social media sites are designed to produce quick and pleasurable dopamine hits in our brain so that we keep using — which can lead to addictive behaviors and social media addiction. 

Young adults are more vulnerable to social media addiction because they’re more likely to act impulsively without considering negative consequences due to where they are developmentally

5 Ways to Protect Young People Online 

We asked Janet Hamm-Tuverson, director of addiction counseling services at Optimum Performance Institute (OPI) — Embark’s young adult transitional living program in Los Angeles, about social media addiction and other online risks for teens. 

Hamm-Tuverson leads a tech balance support group for her 17-28-year-old clients, helping them to develop strategies for managing social media use in their daily lives. She shared some advice for parents so they could take measures to prevent social media addiction in their own teens. 

1. Model good social media usage 

“My ultimate advice would be to start before your child has access to any tech devices, like cell phones or even laptops. Model what balanced use will look like for them. This means parents have to use their devices in a balanced way, too” Hamm-Tuverson says.  

If you’re spending a lot of time scrolling through texts or jumping up to address an email notification that just came in, your kids are going to do the same thing. 

But if you regularly talk about balanced tech use and model it, too — you’ll have a leg to stand on when you guide your teen with their own screen time and social media use. 

2. Set tech boundaries in your home 

Kids start to get phones and other technology of their own somewhere around adolescence, but that doesn’t mean they should have free use of it.  

When the family observes certain tech use rules together, it prevents overuse and keeps internet use within reasonable bounds. Some good limits are:  

  1. Keep tech out of the bedroom so that what everyone is doing is observable, and video games and social media sites like Snapchat and Instagram can’t keep everyone up late. 
  2. Shut off screens a couple of hours before bed. The light from screens can make the brain think it’s daytime, interfering with rest. Replace nighttime computer use with digital detox time, such as a relaxing offline bedtime routine that includes family time. 
  3. Establish rules that tech use is not private for minors. Let your child know that you do have a right to review their tech use, including connections they make with other social media users, to make sure they’re safe online. 
  4. Monitor and limit the number of hours that anyone can be online and have certain activities that are offline and tech-free — like dinner time. This prevents excessive social media use and creates balance. 

3. Stay updated on the latest online threats and arm your teen against them 

Talk with your teen about what’s going on in their online social media life. You’re less likely to get resistance if you approach it like any other part of their day. 

Discuss cyberbullying, trafficking, predators, stalkers, and other aspects of social media use that can lead to low self-esteem and have a powerfully negative impact on their well-being. Role-play what your teen should do in certain situations before they’re facing it in real life. 

“Teach them about catfishing and photo editing. Teach them that what they’re looking at most of the time isn’t real,” Hamm-Tuverson says. “Give them that foundation, and they’ll have a different view. We know movies aren’t real because we know what a studio set looks like.” 

4. Keep informed about the latest apps that help or harm 

Apps like Bark.us can be a strong ally for parents. They monitor your teen’s activity but also their mental health and online well-being — including detecting potential cyberbullying and language that suggests mental disorders like depression and anxiety disorder, or suicidality.  

Vault apps are used to protect privacy on your phone, but they can be used by teens to hide internet use you might not approve of. Check your teen’s phone regularly for vault apps and also check their phone for apps that are tracking their location. 

5. Watch the movie The Social Dilemma 

“It’s really important for parents to watch the movie called The Social Dilemma,” Hamm-Tuverson advises. “First, watch it on your own– and then as a family. 

“You’ll get more out of it the second time… and you’ll be able to see your teen’s reaction to it. It’s a fantastic explanation of the underlying systems that are going on —  controlling, influencing, and manipulating what we view and our networking.” 

If you don’t have access to Netflix, Screenagers Movie offers insights and helpful information for solutions to help our teens navigate the digital world.   

How do you recognize signs of behavioral addictions, such as social media addiction or video game addiction?  

“Look for increased time on their device — and when they’re not on their device, they’re talking about it,” Hamm-Tuverson says. “And maybe they’re not entirely truthful about the time they spend online, or maybe they’re not even aware how much time has elapsed. 

“FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) starts to happen with social media addiction — you know, their phone dings, and they are not able to ignore it — just like with us sometimes.  

“Also, it’s really important to notice whether they’re feeling anxious or depressed after being online — like when the time limit has elapsed — what’s their attitude like?” Hamm-Tuverson asks. “Are they anxious or down? Notice those things and ask questions. Be involved.” 

How do I help my teen if I suspect social media addiction? 

“Start within the home if you can — limiting tech time, modeling balanced use, planning time for family activities, and time away from tech. Get involved and interested. Ask questions and then let [your teen] speak. If it seems to be a bigger issue, find a therapist who specializes in addiction and tech addiction,” Hamm-Tuverson recommends. 

“If you have an educational consultant, that’s the perfect kind of middle person to go through for lots of different references and outside resources. If your teen needs to get into treatment, an EC will know the best programs and will look around for options for an issue to best suit your needs.” 

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Embark Behavioral Health

Embark Behavioral Health

Embark Behavioral Health is a leading network of outpatient centers and residential programs offering premier mental health treatment for preteens, teens, and young adults. Dedicated to its big mission of reversing the trends of teen and young adult anxiety, depression, and suicide by 2028, Embark offers a robust continuum of care with different levels of service and programming; has a deep legacy of over 25 years serving youths; works with families to adjust treatment in real time to improve results; treats the entire family using an evidence-supported approach; and offers the highest levels of quality care and safety standards. For more information about Embark or its treatment programs, including virtual services, intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), therapeutic day treatment programs, also known as partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), residential treatment, and outdoor therapy, visit embarkbh.com.