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How to Talk with Your Kids About Social Media
How to Talk with Your Kids About Social Media
Parents often ask me how to have better conversations about social media with their preteens and teens. The tips below were written with social media and parenting in mind, but you can use these principles to talk about any topic—and with anyone in your life!
DO: Start with open-ended questions.
DON’T: Lead with lectures.
No one likes being lectured, but for adolescents, lectures from parents can sound like nails on a chalkboard.
What can you do instead? Ask open-ended questions.
Adolescents are masters at providing one-word answers to questions. But try these open-ended questions to get the conversation rolling:
What do you spend the most time doing on social media these days?
How do you feel when you’re using Instagram? How about TikTok? Snapchat?
Have you ever tried to cut down on your social media use? Why?
What do you feel like adults are missing about teens’ social media use?
How do you think social media is different for teens vs. adults?
How has social media affected your friends’ mental health?
Many teens love talking about what adults don’t understand, and they have a lot of thoughts about social media’s effects on mental health. And sometimes teens will be less defensive and share more if you ask how social media affects other people.
Source: Infographic by Sophia Choukas-Bradley
DO: Practice active listening.
DON’T: Focus on proving your own points.
Active listening is one of the most powerful tools you can use in a relationship.
Think about the last tough conversation you had with your kid, partner, friend, or colleague. Think back to what you were doing while they were speaking. Were you focused on listening? Or were you coming up with a list of rebuttals in your head that started with “yes but…” or “but what about…”?
When we’re “listening,” we’re often not really listening. We’re just waiting for our chance to speak, and often, to prove the other person wrong.
Being on the receiving end of this doesn’t feel good to any of us. But for adolescents, it can feel downright enraging.
If you often find yourself getting in battles with your kid, where you talk over each other and stay entrenched on your “sides,” chances are you’re not actively listening.
Catch yourself when you’re having “yes, but…” types of thoughts. Focus on listening to what your kid is trying to share with you. And then…
DO: Validate their feelings.
DON’T: Dismiss their concerns.
When you’re listening to your kid and they’re sharing tough stuff with you, it can be tempting to provide reassurance. For example, after your kid says something like, “Everyone’s life looks more fun than mine,” you might feel tempted to say something like, “I’m sure that’s not true!”
The problem is, teens may hear this as, “Your feelings aren’t valid.”
Instead, try reflecting back what they said: Tell them what you heard, using slightly different words—for example: “It sounds like you feel like you’re the only one who isn’t having fun.”
If your kid shares a negative emotion with you, validate that emotion rather than trying to provide reassurance (e.g., try saying: “It sounds like that makes you feel lonely”).
Don’t contradict what they said or downplay their feelings (e.g., don’t say, “That doesn’t sound like a big deal”).
Source: Canva Pro Free Content License
This can feel counter-intuitive. You might worry that you’ll just make your kid feel worse if you validate their negative feelings. But whether it’s conversations between parents and kids, between spouses or partners, or between therapists and clients, decades of research suggest that validating a person’s feelings has huge benefits. Why? Because when we validate someone’s feelings, it makes them want to open up more, and it can help you both feel like you’re “on the same team.”
But what if your kid is sharing problematic things that you want to push back on? The trick is to help them explore their thoughts through open-ended follow-up questions—and not through advice-giving or lectures.
For example, if your kid has just shared that they feel ugly after scrolling through social media because “everyone looks better than me,” try these questions:
What are some of the things people do to change how they look in social media photos?
How often do your classmates look different in school than they do on social media?
How many social media “influencers” do you think look like this in real life?
These types of questions can help kids start to re-examine their thinking. One conversation won’t radically change their thinking (see the tip below), but it can get the ball rolling.
DO: Keep talking.
DON’T: Give up.
You might follow all these tips and still not have a great conversation with your kid. Or maybe the conversation will feel good in the moment, but a week later it will seem like nothing has changed.
And that’s OK.
Remember that your kids’—and your own—relationship with social media has likely been shaped by years of experience, and it continues to be shaped by peers and by powerful social media algorithms.
One conversation won’t fix everything. But it can open up the doors to ongoing dialogue. Keep talking, keep reviewing these tips, and don’t give up!
Special thanks to Dr. Jacqueline Nesi of Brown University for her input on this blog post. Sign up for her popular weekly newsletter Techno Sapiens, for more tech parenting tips.
4 tips for better conversations.
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Psychology of Adolescence
If you think social media is negatively affecting your kid, it’s important to talk about it. How can you make sure this conversation doesn’t backfire?
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Add basics content to this post:
It’s important to talk with preteens and teens about how social media affects them, but lectures can backfire.
These tips can help you start the conversation and keep it going, without having your kid shut down.
These tips were written especially for parents who are worried about their preteen/teens’ social media use.
You can also use these tips for conversations about any tough topic—and with anyone in your life.
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