Preteens and social media- Woof. 

This is a big topic.

If you are feeling lost about how to approach this and what boundaries to set, know that you are not alone! This is the most common point of tension that I see between preteens and their parents and is genuinely very difficult to navigate. 

So how do I navigate social media use with my preteen?

Let’s just start by saying- there may not be a “right” answer to this question. There are so many factors to take into account when thinking about this and each situation and child is different. 

Let’s just consider some of the realities:

  • Social media can be the primary mode of connection for many kids these days and therefore to limit use can have very real social implications for your child.
  • Many young people idolize influencers and people on social media, and may have life goals contingent upon social media use. 
  • Social media use is proving to have profound negative impacts on mental health. 
  • There is a very real safety concern in letting your child have social media. Social media predators are real. 
  • There is a permanence to what is posted online that may negatively impact your child later in their life. 
  • Social media is designed to be addictive and it is very possible for your child to become addicted to social media. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg around what we know about social media use… 

And here’s the reality- at some point your child will have access to social media. Kids are crafty and if they want it enough, more times than not they will find a way. Even if you do successfully keep it out of their lives for the time being, they will have access eventually. Whether or not they are “allowed” to have it, they need to learn what it looks like to healthily navigate it.

While this can feel discouraging, I think there is actually an amazing invitation here. 

Your concerns as a parent are valid and they matter. The reason you have these thoughts is most likely because you have thought critically about the situation and see potential negative impacts that you are trying to protect your child against. Invite them into this process and use it as an opportunity to model and facilitate critical thinking. 

Critical thinking can be a powerful protective factor against the negative effects of social media use!

If we can teach our preteens how to ask difficult questions, troubleshoot potential problems, think about and protect their safety, and consider the long term effects of their choices, not only are we helping them navigate social media, we are also providing a landscape for how to think critically and problem solve in future situations. 

So what does this look like practically?

  1. Instead of blindly setting boundaries with your child, invite them into your process. Discuss your concerns with them and ask them if they have any concerns of their own. Ask them what they think appropriate boundaries might be and how they might go about ensuring those boundaries are upheld. Hear their thoughts and share your own. Troubleshoot with them how to mitigate the potential risks of social media use. For specific questions that are helpful in this process, check out 12 Topics to Discuss with Your Child about Social Media. 
  2. Recognize the very real social implications your boundaries might have for your child and validate the fact that it is difficult. Not having access or having limited access to social media when “all their friends do” can be a very isolating experience. Developmentally, social acceptance becomes the most important thing right around the same time that social media is being introduced into their lives.  Although as adults we can see the long term benefit of boundaries and limitations, your child might only be viewing it through the lens of fitting in and being like everyone else. Even if you don’t plan on shifting your boundaries and expectations, being with your child in their pain can be a powerful bonding experience. It can also be an opportunity to teach your child that they can do hard things. Brainstorm with them other ways of getting their social needs met that do not include social media use. 
  3. Lastly, don’t be a hypocrite. It’s not fair for you to tell your child they can’t use their phone when you are spending hours on tik Tok yourself. Children can sniff out contradicting words and behavior very quickly and it will most likely invalidate your words and boundaries. Take this opportunity to think critically about your own social media use and consider applying some of the same boundaries for yourself. 

**The information contained herein is not therapeutic advice nor a substitute for therapy. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any mental health problem. If you are located within the United States and you need emergency assistance please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. If you are located within Colorado you may also call the Colorado Crisis Line at 844-493-TALK (8255).

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