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Teens and social media during stay-at-home orders

Teenage boy laying on couch with phone

With the stay-at-home orders in place, as an active participant, we have all given up a lot. But, in the eyes of a teenager, it probably seems even greater if you factor in proms, graduations, athletic events, concert performances, college campus visits, parties and just hanging out with friends.

Even though the idea of social distancing seems daunting, especially when the end date is more pliable, things could be worse. It’s not like we are being asked not to eat, ration water or stop using electricity. Because electricity is readily available during this time, hopefully, your teen is using technology to stay connected with their social circles.

But how much is too much screen time, especially during this time and what should we do with social media during social distancing?

Now is not the time to crack down on all screen time. As parents, we feel so much pressure to restrict our kid’s screen time, plan every minute of every day, feed them only healthy meals without processed foods and expect them to do eight hours of online school daily, this is NOT realistic.

These types of unrealistic parenting expectations do three things to us:

  1. make us feel bad when we can’t achieve perfection
  2. stress us out
  3. don’t allow for creation of realistic schedules.

Different times call for different strategies.

Here are some practical social media tips to help you and your teen during this time:

Practice what you preach

If you want your teen to limit screen time in the evenings, then you must do this as well.

Encourage social media free meal and family times.

Create a cell phone bowl and have all family members deposit their phones in the bowl during meals.

Plan alternative activities.

Now is the perfect time to start that family game night, or to set up camp in the backyard. Come up with the list of things your family always asked about or wanted to do and schedule it. Appreciate this extra time you have with your family.

Encourage family members to charge devices in a central location.

Social media before and during bedtime can really interfere with sleep. Having a charging station away from the bedrooms can put a barrier between us and need to be constantly available.

Consider putting additional steps between you and the device.

A lot of times, our electronic devices are a crutch for us. When we have a second of downtime, we grab for our phone. Think of all the “little moments” that we miss because our eyes are focused on something else. Here are some tricks that can naturally curb some of that unneeded screen time:

  • Uninstall apps, so you must use the browser and log in each time.
  • Don’t allow your devices to remember passwords and don’t use the fingerprint or facial recognition.
  • Remove any notifications that suggest urgency and prompt our immediate attention.
  • If you don’t have a centralized charging location, use the bedtime feature on phones. This silence all calls, texts and notifications between certain hours. Emergency contacts can also be added to avoid missing truly important calls during the night.
  • Look into screen time monitoring apps or phone features. These features notify the user they are approaching daily limits and are a gentle nudge to help them step away.

Regardless of these strategies and your rate of success with each one, the important thing as parents is to practice compassion and grace for yourself as a parent. Your teen is not going to “turn into a bad apple” or have their lives ruined by two months of too much screen time. “Bad habits” can be undone and replaced with new habits when this is all over.

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Child Psychology

Child Psychologist; Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine