How to Help Your Tween Manage Stress and Anxiety in the Age of Social Media

By Jessica Jackson
April 27, 2023

As parents, we want the best for our children, and seeing them struggle with stress and anxiety can be incredibly difficult. Unfortunately, social media use, screen time addiction, and FOMO (fear of missing out) are all common contributors to these issues, especially in the tween age group. Here’s how you can help your child cope.

What Are Stress and Anxiety?

Stress is a natural response to a perceived threat, whether that threat is real or imagined. Anxiety, on the other hand, is a feeling of unease or worry about what might happen in the future. Both stress and anxiety are normal, but when they become overwhelming or interfere with daily life, they can become problematic.

How Social Media Use and Screen Time Can Contribute to Stress and Anxiety

Social media use and screen time addiction can exacerbate stress and anxiety in a number of ways. For example, constant exposure to social media can create a feeling of FOMO, where kids feel like they are missing out on peer bonding and group experiences  if they are not constantly checking their feeds. 

This feeling is particularly problematic for teenagers who struggle with the ability to develop and sustain meaningful relationships with others. According to a 2018 report by Common Sense Media, approximately 70% of teenagers with low social-emotional well-being say that they sometimes feel left out or excluded when using social media. 

In addition, social media can contribute to a sense of comparison and competition, where tweens are constantly comparing themselves to others and feeling like they are not measuring up. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, which can contribute to stress and anxiety.

Finally, excessive screen time can exacerbate suicidal behavior and disrupt sleep patterns, which is stressful on the body. When tweens do not get enough sleep, they may feel irritable, anxious, or overwhelmed, which can make it difficult to manage big emotions.

Strategies and Techniques for Parents

Mom and daughter talking

As a parent, it can be difficult to know how to help your tween manage stress and anxiety exacerbated by social media use and excessive screen time. However, there are a number of practical strategies and techniques you can use to support your child at home.

Foster a positive relationship with social media

Social media is not inherently bad and can actually provide many benefits, such as staying connected with friends and family or accessing educational resources. Instead of demonizing social media, it’s important to foster a positive relationship with it. Encourage your child to use social media in a responsible and healthy way, such as setting boundaries on screen time, following kid-friendly accounts, and taking breaks from social media when necessary.

Stay engaged with what your kids are seeing and doing online

While there are many benefits to the internet, there are also risks, such as exposure to inappropriate content, cyberbullying, and online predators. By staying engaged and monitoring your child's online activity, you can help protect them from these risks and ensure that they are engaging with the internet in a safe and responsible way. In addition, staying engaged with your child's online activity can help you better understand their interests and concerns, and it can provide opportunities for open and honest communication about difficult topics.

Model healthy behaviors

As a parent, you can lead by example when it comes to technology. This means setting boundaries on your own screen time, engaging in outdoor activities, practicing mindfulness techniques, and talking about your own feelings in a positive way. By modeling healthy behaviors, you can show your child that managing their emotions  is a priority, and that it is possible to live a balanced and fulfilling life without relying on screens.

Encourage outdoor activities

Encouraging your child to spend time outside can be a great way to reduce stress and anxiety. Outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, or playing in the park, can provide a sense of calm and relaxation. Heading outside can also help your child disconnect from the pressures of social media and screen time.

Teach mindfulness techniques

Mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation, can be a powerful tool when tweens feel stressed out or anxious. Encourage your child to take a few deep breaths when they are feeling overwhelmed, or teach them a simple meditation technique, such as focusing on their breath or repeating a calming phrase. 

The 5-4-3-2-1 ground method is a popular option: ask your child to sit quietly and look at five things they can see, four things they can feel, three things they can hear, two things they can smell, and one thing they can taste. This method is a helpful (and easy-to-remember) way to encourage kids to focus on the present, rather than external stressors outside of their control.

Talk to your child

One of the most important things you can do to support your child is to talk to them about their feelings. Encourage your child to share their worries and concerns, and let them know that it is okay to feel stressed or anxious. Listen to them without judgment, and offer reassurance and support.

Seek professional help if necessary

If your child's stress responses are interfering with their daily life, it may be necessary to seek professional help. A therapist or counselor can provide support and guidance for managing  your child’s emotional triggers, and they can help your child develop coping skills and strategies for dealing with difficult emotions.

The Bottom Line

Stress and anxiety can be difficult challenges to navigate, especially for tweens who find themselves spending too much time behind screens. But by practicing healthy behaviors, such as limiting screen time, teaching mindfulness techniques, and seeking professional help if necessary, parents can provide effective support for their tweens. Remember, managing stress and anxiety is an ongoing process, and it is important to be patient, understanding, and supportive as your child navigates these challenges.

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