Social media has become an integral part of everyday life for most teenagers, with 95% of 13–17-year-olds using one or more social media platforms for an average of 9 hours a day. Is that too much? Many experts, parents and even teens themselves, think so.

For most, it feels like a necessary tool for communication, self-expression, and connection with others. The internet seems to have taken over all our lives. That is why parents should be mindful and intentional about their own habits and use of smartphones and other devices. Teens may seem like they are unaware, but they are excellent observers, and modeling is still the best teaching tool we have. A recent Pew Center survey reported that nearly half of teens (46%) say their parent is distracted by their phone when they’re trying to talk to them.

It’s important for parents to understand the impact of digital media habits at this crucial developmental stage. During adolescence, hormones and brain development may contribute to emotional dysregulation and engagement in risky behaviors. The reward centers of the brain are more active and vulnerable, leading to more impulsive behaviors and addiction vulnerability. As Jonathan Haidt describes in his recent article in the Atlantic, the use of smartphones has altered developmental pathways for the new generation of kids. Since 2015, friendship, dating, sexuality, exercise, sleep, academics, family dynamics and identity have all been affected.

There are pros and cons to smartphone and social media engagement for our teens. It is something we have come to accept, but it is still a privilege and a risk. Like a teen driving a car, there are limits, cautions and responsibilities. Setting the stage early, helps them understand that social media use isn’t a given right.

Pros of social media for young teens include:

  1. Communication: Social media allows teens to stay connected with friends and family members, regardless of distance.
  2. Self-expression: Teens can use social media as a platform to express their creativity, opinions, and thoughts. Racial and ethnic minority youth may use social media to facilitate connection with youth that share their identities and bolster their well-being. (Anderson et al., 2022).
  3. Access to information: social media provides a wealth of information on various topics, helping teens stay informed and educated.

Cons of social media for young teens include

  1. Cyberbullying: One of the biggest dangers of social media is cyberbullying, where teens may experience harassment, threats, or negative comments from peers.
  2. Privacy concerns: Teens may unknowingly share personal information online, putting themselves at risk of identity theft or other privacy violations.
  3. Mental health issues: Excessive use of social media has been linked to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem in teens. One study reported that adolescents who spent five or more hours a day on social media were more likely to report lower levels of happiness and well-being in comparison to those who spent less than an hour a day. The effects of over 6 hours of social media activity has a particularly negative effect on kids with mental health disorders, including ADHD, according to Dr. Harold Koplewicz, Director of the Child-Mind Institute, who wrote “Scaffold Parenting: Raising Resilient, Self-Reliant And Secure Kids In An Age Of Anxiety.” Furthermore, adolescent girls are more likely than boys to endorse feeling overwhelmed by drama, left out of what their friends are doing, develop or feel worse about their lives as a result of social media use (Anderson et al., 2022).

To monitor and manage their teens’ social media use, parents can take the following steps

  1. Set limits: Internet and smartphone use is a privilege, which has related responsibilities. Together with your teen, establish agreements around when and for how long your teen can use social media each day. When the use interferes with other important activities, such as sleep, mealtime, family time, academics, exercise, and chores, then agreements ought to be discussed and revised.
  2. Educate on online safety: Teach teens about the importance of privacy settings, the dangers of sharing personal information online, and how to handle cyberbullying.
  3. Monitor activity: Keep an eye on your teen’s social media accounts and have open discussions about their online behavior. A platform’s system of rewards, (“likes” and gaming wins) can lead to obsessive use. Social media platforms are designed to entice people to keep using them and become addicted. Teens can understand how algorithms can be used to manipulate their online behavior, and discern whether they are making a conscious choice to follow the prompts or not. But, having the willpower isn’t easy, even for adults. It needs to be learned and practiced.
  4. Encourage “real world” experiences: Parents need to proactively replace screen time with real world activities involving friends and independent experiences. They can help in the family, care for others, and take on jobs both inside and outside the home. Kids are smarter, stronger, and more capable than we give them credit for.  Check out, for more ideas on how to help move children and communities toward greater independence from screens, and more engagement with nature and humanity.

By being proactive and involved in teens’ social media usage, parents can help mitigate the risks and ensure a safer online experience for their children.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed navigating your teen’s social media use, consider seeking family counseling from a qualified therapist. Tory Joseph, M.Ed., LCPC can help you develop healthy communication strategies and establish clear boundaries around digital media use in your household. Contact Tory today, learn more about her parent coaching services.