Limiting teen social media seems impossible. But we have to try.

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Recently my husband and I had a conversation with our teenagers over the phones. There was too much mindless scrolling, and we had an idea. What if, we said, you plugged in your phones downstairs, in the basement? And when you need it, you get off, do what you gotta do, come back. This includes texting, capturing friends, checking box scores.

The basement plan was meant to create a physical space between the boy and the phone, hopefully the little barrier would be enough to deter them from constantly checking.

It lasted a few days.

This week, US Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy issued an advisory that confirms what most of us teen parents have long known: social media is harming our children. They lose sleep, drift away from real life, spend way too much time staring at a phone instead of doing… anything else. They’re drawn to content that makes them anxious, depressed, and sick, and they can’t stop. Murthy called on tech companies to put in place better protections to help us parents deal with this.

But keeping our children away from social media is much easier said than done. According to Pew Research, 95% of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 have access to smartphones; Common Sense Media found that 84% of teens use social media. With many parents there is a strong feeling that the genie is already out of the bottle – this stuff is everywhere, and even without a phone, our kids would still find ways to access the platforms we want to keep them away from. When I mentioned our abandoned basement project to a friend, she said, “Wow, are you still trying to get it under control? I just said to myself that at this age, we give up.

But I’ve learned over the years that if my husband and I feel our kids are on their screens too much, they probably feel it too: That same Common Sense Media report also found that only 34% of teens who use social media say they like it “a lot”. Not all social media is bad – it can be a way for tweens and teens to connect with other like-minded peers, stay in touch with distant friends, communicate beliefs and nurture new interests. But as most of us have experienced, once our children are sucked in, it is extremely difficult to hold them back. However, it is not impossible, and as evidenced by the report and Murtha’s dire warning, the stakes are so high that parents need to try.

What Teenagers Think Parents Should Know About Phones

And so, for those of us who allowed our kids to have phones and social media (most of us), how can we go back now? What do we wish we had known, as Melinda French Gates once said in an article here, “before I put a computer in my kids’ pockets”? It may require tighter limits at home, it may require recruiting other parents to join the battle, and it will certainly take more effort from tech companies. But to be sure: the struggle between letting our kids have a phone and begging them to put it down is a real one.

For many parents, it’s the idea that their kids are the only ones who don’t have a phone or aren’t on a certain social media site that drives them to allow it in the first place. Abigail Cannon of Bend, Oregon finally allowed her 14-year-old son to have Snapchat around January because the rest of his hockey team was using it. “I already regret it,” she said. “He hit that perfect parental piano key where I thought ‘Oh, he’s being left out.

But now he’s using it to watch “completely unfiltered content that consumes all of his interest and focus… So all the healthy boundaries we’ve worked so hard for, it’s just slipperier than anything we’ve ever dealt,” Cannon said. “I can’t even figure out how to use screen time limits for Snap. Really, it’s run by aliens.”

The Cannon family rules? Constant checks to ensure screen limits are in place. No phone at meals. No phone in the rooms at night. (She is, after all, a pediatric sleep coach.) And yes, they are rethinking Snapchat. Cannon plans to talk to the parents about his son’s teammates. “Can we recruit the group of friends who mean the most to him to quit? It should be a community effort rather than an individual one.

As a parent, she’s had enough of all this vigilance and she puts a lot of thought into absorbing the app. “I really wonder if it’s just a deep distraction that could be [keeping him from something] it could be interesting for him.

The fact is, experts and parents say, when teens are given boundaries around phones, they feel relief. “If kids really sat there and took stock of how they feel when they’re on their devices, they’d notice a drop in the sense of well-being in their skin,” says Jennifer Kelman, mental health expert at Just Answer and specialist clinical social worker. in children’s mental health. “We all think our kids don’t want discipline and boundaries, but they do. … If we give them free rein, they will feel out of control.”

Worried about your kids’ screen time? Check yours first.

Schenley Walker says she was the “last parent standing” in San Francisco because her kids didn’t get phones until their freshman year of high school. “I’ve always liked the idea that we’re running this giant experiment on children,” she says. “We have radically changed the way people interact in a short time.”

She delayed as long as possible, in part by sending her children to summer camp without devices. “The break they have in the summer is key, because it taught them from the age of 10: Look at this rich life I can have when I…can engage with the world instead of ‘a screen.”

Giving her kids a phone at an older age has helped them regulate their use, she thinks. Her son, a 20-year-old student, has a phone but doesn’t seem interested in social media. Her daughter, who is finishing her first year of high school, participates in social media, but it hasn’t taken over her life and there are no restrictions from her parents. “She’s 17. At this point, she has to figure out on her own what works for her with minimal guidance,” Walker said. “What I love is that she has a group of friends who love being together when they’re in person.”

The report released this week points to two major issues: content and problematic screen use, says Lisa Damour, psychologist and author of “The Emotional Lives of Teenagers.”

“It’s incredibly important that we talk to children about what they are exposed to through digital technology – and those conversations should be ongoing,” she said. “There are benign digital spaces, and there are incredibly dangerous digital spaces, such as those that promote behaviors related to eating disorders, misogyny, racism, and self-harm.”

And we need to have open conversations with our kids about screen time, she said. “Technology should not interfere with sleep, physical activity, time in person, contribution at home and in one’s community.”

So how can we as parents have these conversations productively? Read the report, she said. Then print it out and talk about it with your teen. If they object to new borders, explain that new information is emerging “and in all things we are working with the most up-to-date information.”

Devorah Heitner, author of ‘Growing Up in Public: Coming of Age in a Digital World’, suggests we ask our kids to ‘make the circle diagram of what they want their life to look like’, and phones might not be a very big problem. slice. Ask them to really think about how they feel when, say, they play guitar versus when they watch TikTok. Many children already understand that social media can create stress and anxiety in their lives. So be the parent to help them out of this, she suggests. “Find the people who believe what you believe and start changing with them. Really watch an unplugged time of day when everyone in the family engages. Go for a walk after dinner. Maybe they don’t aren’t on the phone while you’re driving somewhere, rather watch a show with your teenager, which is different from being on your device.

As for my family, we are working on it. The basement lasted three days (failure), but they keep their phones there at night (victory). When I asked my eldest son, who was taking a break from his studies for the finals, if he was okay with me writing about our recent attempt to cut so much time on social media. “Na, that’s cool,” he said. And he put his phone down so we could talk.

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