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Social networks and screen time: tips for parents


February 1, 2023 Addictions


Par Simon Aubin

Counsellor Prevention/Promotion

Do you wonder why your teenager spends so much time on Instagram or TikTok? Or why their reactions are so strong and emotional when you ask them to put their phone away?

Don't worry, it's completely normal. It's a reality we have to deal with, not against, but it requires us to rethink our parenting practices, help our teens develop critical thinking skills, and make wise choices about their own well-being.

The impact of social media on young people

According to a University of Montreal study, teens who spend more time on social networks are at greater risk of developing mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. In addition, the Rapport sur l’utilisation des écrans et la santé des jeunes : réflexions issues du forum d’experts reported that :

Teens who spend more time on social media are also at greater risk for attention and sleep disorders.

But before you panic and unplug the Wi-Fi, it's important to remember that social media can also have some benefits. Social networks allow teens to connect with their friends, discover new things, and express themselves. That's why it's important to strike a balance and set reasonable limits on social networking.

Recommended screen time for teens

The basic recommendations for screen exposure are: to move at least 1 hour a day and to use screens for leisure at most 2 hours a day.

However, more than 55% of adolescents in Quebec do not respect these recommendations. Teens are attracted to their phones and tablets for many reasons: to distract themselves, to be part of a group, to stay in touch, to feel valued and recognized, to manage their anxiety, etc.

Moreover, these devices and applications are specifically designed to make their users addicted. They provide a lot of pleasure and value with very little effort. Consequently, the brain produces a lot of dopamine (pleasure hormone), but this intense and instantaneous stimulation is difficult to reproduce in daily life activities.

Impact on youth psychological health

This stimulation, instant gratification, and the appeal of social media have an impact on the psychological health of young people:

  • Feelings of screen addiction or problematic use
  • Agitation and difficulty paying attention and concentrating since the real world is less stimulating than screens
  • Increased feelings of anxiety and depression when not using the screen, due to fear of missing something online or the effects of dopamine withdrawal
  • Distortion of self-image and self-esteem (e.g., filters on photos always give us a false perception of ourselves and others. This leads to feelings of failure and inadequacy)
  • Trivialization of violence through frequent and normalized exposure.
  • Dealing with a new mode of communication (texting, emojis, likes) that can be highly ambivalent when messaging (not including tone of voice, non-verbal, facial expression, intent)
  • Risk of experiencing cyberbullying

6 tips to help reduce social networking risks

  1. Talk to your teens about the risks of social networking. It is important to make them aware of the risks of cyberbullying, misinformation, addiction, and being exposed to offensive images.
  2. Encourage your teens to use social media responsibly. It is important to remind them not to share personal information, not to post images that could put themselves or others in an uncomfortable situation, and to think about the consequences of their actions online.
  3. Give reasonable limits to social media use. It is important to set time limits for social networking and to encourage them to spend time on other activities. As a general rule of thumb, the recommended maximum amount of time is two hours per day for recreational screen time.
  4. Be aware of your own social media habits. As parents, you are a role model for your teens. If you spend too much time on your screens, it will be harder to set limits for them. Consistency is key.
  5. Encourage activities outside of social networks. It's important to promote other activities such as playing sports, doing creative things, reading, and going out with family and friends.
  6. Keep an eye on your teens' behaviors. Take the time to talk with them if you notice a drop in school performance, decreased motivation, increased isolation, negative impacts on their physical health, lack of hygiene, or a decline in mental health.

In summary, social networking can be a great tool for teens, but it's important to understand the risks and set reasonable limits on their use. By talking openly with your teens and being a responsible role model, you can help them navigate social networks safely.

References (in French)

Université de Montréal, La dépression chez les adolescents liée à l’utilisation des médias sociaux et de la télévision
Gouvernement du Québec, L’utilisation des écrans et la santé des jeunes : réflexions issues du forum d’experts
Preventive Medicine Reports, Adolescent media use and its association to wellbeing in a Canadian national sample