5 Ways to Curb Our Kids' Social Media Habits

Mighty Mommy checks in with an expert from Bastyr University to help kids curb their social media habits and find a healthy balance when hanging out on today’s popular social media platforms.


Cheryl Butler
9-minute read
Episode #486

As we head into the summer months, kids who are on vacation will likely have a lot more time on their hands than they did while in school. This is certainly a welcome and well-deserved break for students who constantly have their nose in a book, or who are studying and researching topics to meet their class requirements. It’s also a nice bit of respite for parents who work hard encouraging and supporting their kids throughout the school year. Now families can kick back and relax and have some fun.

For ten weeks, students will indulge in beach time, chilling out with friends, working summer jobs, attending camp and yet, the majority of their free time will likely be spent hanging out for countless hours on social media platforms.

According to Socialmediatoday.com, teens are spending up to nine hours a day on social media platforms. At present, this translates to the average person spending more than five years of their lives on social media, according to a study by influencer marketing agency Mediakix. Compare this to their study of the average person spending only six months of their lives doing laundry!

Previously the American Academy of Pediatrics set a general screen time limit: no more than two hours in front of the TV for kids over age two. For the new guidelines, Dr. Yolanda Reid Chassiakos, lead author of the "Children and Adolescents and Digital Media Technical Report" and assistant professor at UCLA states that the AAP’s guidelines for healthy kids attending an average school day includes "school, homework time, at least one hour of physical activity, social contact and sleep—which is anywhere from eight to 12 hours for kids...Whatever's left over can be screen time," she finishes.

Social media affects all of us, especially our kids, on a daily basis. Unless we unplug completely, it’s not going to go away. In fact, it’s going to continue growing leaps and bounds and become an even more intricate part of our lives. There are many positives to be gained both personally and professionally when we allow social media venues to ebb and flow into our lives, but on the flip side, there are also negative effects that can be very harmful to our kids if the proper checks and balances aren’t put into place.

Mighty Mommy checks in with an expert from Bastyr University to help kids curb their social media habits and find a healthy balance when hanging out on today’s popular social media platforms.

Curbing Our Kids' Social Media Addiction

  1. Positive Effects of Social Media
  2. Risks of Social Media
  3. Influencing Better Choices While on Social Media
  4. Expert Suggested Guidelines
  5. Encouraging Appropriate Social Media Behaviors

Let’s explore each of these more closely.

1. Positive Effects of Social Media

As a mom and writer who ventures out into several social media venues several times a day myself, I wanted to start off by capturing the many positive sides these platforms can offer. I often refer to the time I spend on Facebook as my ‘adult playground time.’ When a friend of mine urged me to join back in 2009, I thought she was completely nuts. At the time my eight kids were ages four through 16, and I was learning how to live with four teenagers all while getting ready to re-enter the workforce. Dabbling on a new social media site felt like way too much pressure and a complete waste of my time.

After a few more weeks of her cajoling me, I finally gave in. Within just a few days I was enamored and, to be honest, thrilled to have this new outlet to visit in between my many loads of dishes and laundry. That was nearly ten years ago, and I’m still Facebook strong!

Personally, I loved the creative side to Facebook. I was able to join writers' groups, get ideas for home decorating and gardening projects, and it was also a nice networking resource for parenting tips and topics. I also reconnected with many high school and college friends that I hadn’t seen in years and was able to catch up on their lives, careers, and meet their children through the hundreds of photos we can all share on our pages.

Thomas Farmer, PsyD, Department of Counseling & Health Psychology at Bastyr University, studies the positive and negative effects of social media on our youth. When asked about the upside to social media, he said: “Today’s youth face numerous challenges of the interconnected online world. Rightly so, many parents are apprehensive of many potential pitfalls of this 24/7 online connectivity. Yet, social media does offer the potential for many positive impacts on children.

“Children have the opportunity to engage with new individuals, from different cultures and backgrounds, learn a greater deal of independence, be creative, as well as begin their assent into the 'new world,' which in essence has become the 'real world.' Opportunities to learn about various social online environments can potentially prepare children and teens for their future professional lives. The significant exposure to different people and ideas can prepare them to understand situations through context and allow them to be resourceful in learning about new ideas. Beyond the educational and learning opportunities that exist online, youngsters now have the opportunity to have a 'voice' within their local and world communities.” 

2. Risks of Social Media

The positive impact of social media can definitely lay a solid foundation for individuals who are either disciplined not to let screen time take over the majority of their day as well as those who can keep it in perspective and not get swept up in an addictive state where they let what they view and read take over their lives.

I can personally admit that if I happen to be having an off day where things aren’t quite going as I had planned, going on Facebook and seeing a fellow PTO mom posting glamorous pics of her girlfriend getaway to Miami Beach isn’t very motivating, and dare I say it—cause for a little bit of jealousy. Likewise, young tweens and teens who are still learning to deal with their own fragile emotions can experience a myriad of negative feelings while hanging out on social media.

Dr. Farmer weighs in on the negative aspects of the social media phenomenon. “Often, a parent's biggest concern around social media use is the generational interpretation that children are missing out on real life in favor of the artificial online world. These critiques do have some merit given the focus of developing online avatars, losing sleep due to the blue light screen glowing in one’s bed, or the immediate gratification that youngsters gain from having constant feedback.

“Research is highly conflicted around issues of cyber bullying and other mental health impacts. Nick and colleagues (2018) found that increased Internet use was correlated with both online victimization, and was at least equally correlated with increased social support as well. In terms of mental health issues such as depression, online communications may serve as a buffer or an intensifier. Similar to in-person support, online support may have the ability to minimize adverse impacts of cyberbullying.

"Online victimization seems to be associated with low self-esteem and depressive symptoms at a rate comparable to in-person victimization (note associated, not causal). Impact of potential online support may fully offset the impact of victimization for many teens and children. However, children with already low in-person support, online victimization appears to have negligible impacts, suggesting online cyberbullying is rarely the root cause of distress. While parents often fear the impact of having a permanent footprint of bullying through an online presence, the research is not fully supportive that this actually makes things worse for their children. The more coherent interpretation is that social media is really just a new format of presenting issues that have always been prevalent in society. Specifically, social media is rarely the root of the problem, but rather, just the messenger.”

Dr. Farmer also touches on the subject of body image and the use of certain platforms. “Other studies such as Sherlock and Wagstaff (2018) demonstrate that increased use of Instragram for women between the ages of 18 to 35 correlates with poor mental health outcomes and self-perceptions, particularly those around body image. Researchers agree that there seems to be an impact related to Social Comparison theory in which social media users can be influenced through trends such as 'fitspiration' on Instagram. These comparisons can create negative appraisals of self and increase the risk for mental health issues. One could assume that teens may be even more vulnerable to such comparisons. Similarly, research on Facebook has demonstrated social comparison issues related to high use of Facebook. Teens may often view the artificial positivity of peers in comparison to their own lives, leaving them to feel isolated or distressed. As a whole, the research is mixed. As many potential negatives that teens face, there are likely as many advantages.”


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.