Try to take a smartphone away from a teenager and you may be shocked at the dark look and snarl you receive in response. Deny your newly inducted jr. high schooler from starting a Facebook account and the dramatic outburst you face can seem outrageous. But here’s the thing: social media outlets have become a focal point – perhaps the focal point – of American pop culture.

As a result, parents in this early part of the 21st century are honorably grappling with questions, like, “does social media do more harm than good,” “how much is too much,” and, “am I ruining my child’s life by sticking to my guns?” These are worthwhile questions.

Social Media Does Affect the Brain

Whether or not the brain is affected by social media is no longer a question. Science and medical researchers now work hard to determine how much the brain is affected by digital behaviors.

Countless brain imaging sessions performed on teen groups have shown that interacting with the likes in social media platforms trigger the brain’s pleasure centers. The more the brain’s pleasure centers are triggered, the more triggering it desires. This is an exact replica of how the brain reacts to addictive chemicals and activities.

For that reason, the Director of Neuroscience at UCLA calls screens “electronic cocaine,” Chinese neurologists have dubbed it “digital heroin,” and even the Head of Addiction Research for the Pentagon and the U.S. Navy refers to video games and screen technologies as digital drugs.

As a parent, your job is to be proactive in an effort to keep your child’s interactions with digital and social media in the healthy rangebefore they cross over to the addiction side of the pleasure spectrum.

How Much is Too Much in the World of Digital Media

The good news is that all of the warning signs for unhealthy levels of digital behavior – whether that be online gaming or Instagram – are the same as they are for any other drug, alcohol, or behavioral addiction.

Ask your tween/teens the following questions regarding their relationship with screens and digital media:

  • Does it cause you to lose sleep?
  • Do you get irritable if you forget your phone or device at home?
  • Is it difficult for you to remain focused in class or on homework if you hear an alert on your phone/device?
  • Have you felt depressed, anxious, angry, or other negative emotions that were difficult to control as a result of social media?

Answers to these questions can help you determine how to proceed.

Social Media Strategies for Adolescents and Teens

Parents and guardians of today’s adolescent and teen generation need social media strategies to support children in cultivating healthy habits. These include things like:

  • Continually communicating about public profiles, what is healthy sharing and what’s not, how their likes or thumbs downs affect others, how to process the negative feelings that arise as the result of perceived negative social media actions by their peers, etc.
  • Restricting access by checking-in phones and digital media sources before bedtime (that goes for you too!). They can be handed back again in the morning. This promotes healthy sleep habits, which are essential.
  • Maintaining daily digital or screen-free hours and/or one weekend day per week so the family can spend quality time together.

For more guidance, read 10 Social Media Strategies…, and also check out the documentary “Screenagers – Growing Up in the Digital Age,” a documentary made for parents and children. Click Here to find a showing near you.

Remain educated about the impacts of social media, both positive and negative, so your family benefits from informed conversations.