BrightCanary

How to Help Your Kid Use Social Media Responsibly

By Andrea Karin Nelson
September 7, 2023
Mother and daughter looking at phone on couch

Parenting kids in the age of social media can feel like the Wild West. We didn’t grow up with it, so we can’t use parallels from our own childhoods to teach kids how to use social media responsibly. Some days, it seems like we’re writing the playbook as we go along. You want to teach your child how to use social media responsibly, but where do you start?

To ease the road, here are some practical tips for navigating social media safety with your kid. 

Proceed with caution

Existing research suggests that excessive social media use can have a negative impact on children. As a parent, it’s important to keep an eye out for these negative consequences. 

Some of the adverse consequences of excessive social media use include:

It’s not all bad: How social media can be good

Before you run to your kid’s device and delete all their accounts, remember that research has also identified many benefits of social media use for youth. 

Here are some positive outcomes:

  • Exploring hobbies 
  • Finding new friends
  • Reinforcing offline friendships
  • Providing social support 
  • Fostering self-exploration 
  • Strengthening sense of self for youth with marginalized identities 
  • Exposure to diverse people and ideas 
  • Providing a lifeline for LGBTQIA+ youth 

Teaching kids how to use social media responsibly

Encourage your kids to use social media safely so they may reap the benefits — and, hopefully, avoid the negative impacts. Here’s how to get started.

Set limits and encourage breaks 

Enlist your kids in coming up with reasonable social media limits that foster plenty of offline breaks.

These limits might include:

  • Use social media for no more than one hour at a time
  • Phones away during meals
  • No social media after 9 p.m. 
  • No scrolling social media during homework time
  • No phones in screen-free zones in the house 

Teach critical thinking 

Making sure your kids use social media responsibly isn’t just about their behavior today. The lessons you teach them now will set the foundation for them to make good choices for years to come. 

Help them to examine their own behavior around social media and encourage them to act in a way that supports their values and long-term goals.

Sit down with your kid and look at who they follow together — both people they know and don’t know. Ask what drew them to follow that person in the first place, what benefit they get from watching their content, and how that content makes them feel. 

It’s also a good idea to remind them to think before they post. Discuss with your child the potential short- and long-term consequences of what they share online. Encourage them to pause first and consider how their post might impact themselves and others. 

Be honest about the risks and benefits 

Have a frank discussion with your kiddo about the pros and cons of social media use. The more information they have, the better they can make informed choices about their own behavior. 

Stay engaged 

In addition to teaching your child to make their own social media decisions responsibly, it’s important to remain engaged as a parent so you can monitor for any warning signs and continue to coach them while they learn. 

Here are some tips to stay connected with your child’s online life:

  • Regular check-ins: Make it a habit to periodically sit down with your kid and look through their social media feeds. Discuss both the fun things you see and anything concerning that shows up. 
  • Use existing tools: Parental controls and monitoring services such as BrightCanary can help you put guardrails around your kid’s social media use without having to be glued to their feeds 24/7.
  • Prepare your child: Does your child know what to do if their account gets hacked, or if they receive a threatening message? Talk to your child about how they should handle difficult situations (talk to a parent!) before the situation happens. 

Model appropriate social media use

Our kids are watching what we do and — although they would probably never admit it — they’re learning from what they see. Be mindful of your own social media use and model the kind of positive, responsible behavior you want to see from your kids. 

In short

Social media use has a plethora of pros and cons for teens. While it’s nothing to be afraid of, it is something to approach mindfully. It’s important that parents teach their kids to use social media responsibly and stay engaged with their online activity — because kids shouldn’t have to learn how to navigate social media on their own.