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You Gave Your Kid Social Media and Regret It. Now What?

Words by
Morgan Wilcock

APR 26, 2024

You Gave Your Kid Social Media and Regret It. Now What?

As a careful parent, you assessed the risks, you got your child set up on social media, but now you regret it. How do you take it away?

Looking at the effect social media has had on your child, you may be asking the  questions, “is it too late to undo the damage it has caused? Should you take your kid’s smartphone away, or delete social media now that they already have it? How will you deal with the intense pushback from your kid?”

The answers will depend on your specific situation but we can tell you that it’s never too late to help your child. Let’s talk about some approaches you might consider. 

Dangers of Social Media

Social media poses a significant risk to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents, contributing to issues like social withdrawal, anxiety, and depression. Since 2010, the ubiquity of social media and features such as “like” buttons and follower counts have been linked to a 150% increase in major depression among teens.

confused teen scratches her head as she looks at her phone

Parents can start conversations about safe technology use, regardless of their child’s current level of social media engagement.

Getting Rid of Social Media

Taking away social media can be a painful experience for you and your child. It’s difficult to know exactly how a child might respond, and after a few arguments or tantrums, you may feel tempted to give in and let your child keep social media after all. 

It’s vital that you ride out the transition period rather than relent. Dr. Brene Brown, a public figure and research professor at the University of Houston, points out that parents only have to give in to their kids’ tantrums once for kids to stop trusting them and consistently push boundaries.

Tips Going Into the Conversation

Every child is different, and some might need different approaches for walking back access to social media. 

Some kids might take it harder than others. Here are tips for softening the blow:

  • Try to be empathetic and see the situation from their perspective. It would be hard to have access to something your peers have access to, then have it taken away. Especially if something problematic happened online that led to this decision, your child might feel like it’s a punishment, which could be hard for them to face. Try to be understanding of their perspective, while staying firm with your decision.
  • Express love and care for your child’s wellbeing.
  • Apologize for their discomfort or for making a parenting mistake. Part of being a parent is course correction: you’re not going to get everything right the first time. When you care, you have to make the hard decisions.
  • You can share stats about social media having a direct negative impact on teen mental health so they understand why this is important and that you care about their wellbeing.
  • Acknowledge to your child why you’re changing the rule, be honest about why, and acknowledge that it might be hard for them to hear.
  • You might share with them that you trust them, but that you might not trust other people online. Let them know you want to protect them from people who might try to take advantage of them.
  • Consider giving them a few days’ notice so they can tie up loose ends with chats or conversations with friends.
  • Plan more 1:1 time or fun things to fill the time. Make a plan together for things they can be excited about to fill the absence of social media.

If parents want to see a change in their children’s social media habits, they should model healthy social media use for them! It’s difficult to trust an authority figure who says “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Sample Conversations

It’s impossible to predict exactly how a conversation with your child will go but preparing in advance can help you guide the discussion in a positive way. Below is an example of how you might approach this with your child.

You: Hey, can we talk for a few minutes? I want to discuss something important with you.

Child: Sure, what’s up?

You: I know that I gave you permission to use social media, and you’ve been enjoying it. But I’ve learned a few things that concern me. It’s not an easy decision, but I think it’s important that we take a step back from it for now.

Child: Why? What did I do wrong?

You: It’s not about you doing something wrong. It’s more about making sure that social media doesn’t interfere with other important parts of your life. I’ve noticed that you’ve been spending a lot of time on it, and it seems to be affecting your schoolwork and your mood.

Child: But all my friends are on social media. It’s how we stay connected.

You: I understand that, and I don’t want to completely cut you off from your friends. But we need to find a balance. Right now, it feels like social media is taking up too much of your time and energy. I want to help you find healthier ways to stay connected with your friends and focus on other activities that are important for your growth.

Child: So, you’re just taking it away?

You: For now, yes. But this isn’t permanent. We’ll reassess in a month and see how things are going. During this time, I want us to work together to find other ways for you to connect with your friends and manage your time better. How does that sound?

Child: I guess it’s okay, but it feels unfair.

You: I get that, and I know it’s tough. My goal isn’t to punish you. It’s to help you develop good habits and make sure you’re happy and healthy. Let’s work on this together, and I promise we’ll find a solution that works for both of us. I believe in you!

Child: Alright, I’ll try.

You: Thanks, Child. I appreciate your understanding. If you ever feel like you need to talk about this or anything else, I’m always here for you.

Resistance from Your Child

We understand the above example is idealistic. It’s possible your child will have a less understanding reaction to your decision. In the moment it’s easy to react with elevated emotions yourself, but preparing for the worst can help you keep your cool. Remember, they are a child and don’t have the perspective you do. 

Even if they are angry now, as they age they will see the benefit of a parent who cares about their greatest good. They will be able to trust you more as someone who has their best interest in mind, even if they’re upset in the meantime.

Your child may come up with some pretty convincing arguments in favor of social media. They may appreciate social media for connecting them with friends and family, introducing them to new perspectives, and reducing boredom. You can acknowledge the benefits of social media while still protecting them from the greater dangers.

Here’s an alternative sample conversation involving an angrier response:

Child: But everyone uses Snapchat to text! I’m going to become irrelevant with my friends if I can’t use it. This is so unfair!

You: I can see that you’re really upset. It’s not easy to feel like you’re being left out.

Child: You just don’t get it! Everyone is on Snapchat. I’m going to be the only one who can’t use it.

You: I do understand that it’s a big deal for you. Social media is a huge part of how you and your friends connect. It must feel frustrating to think about missing out.

Child: It’s not just frustrating, it’s ruining everything! My friends won’t include me if I can’t be on Snapchat.

You: I hear you. It sounds really hard. I’m not trying to ruin things for you. I’m trying to help you find a healthy balance so that social media doesn’t negatively affect other important areas of your life, like your schoolwork and your well-being. It’s a chance for you to focus on other things for a while, like your hobbies, schoolwork, and spending time with family. We can also plan some get-togethers with your friends so you can see them in person.

Child: This is the worst. You don’t trust me at all.

You: It’s not about trust. I trust you, and I believe in you. This decision is about making sure you’re not overwhelmed and that you’re able to focus on other important things, too. I’m here to support you and help you find other ways to stay connected with your friends.

Child: What other ways? Nothing is going to be the same.

You: You’re right; it’s not the same. But we can explore some alternatives like texting, calling, or video chatting. We can also make sure you have more in-person time with your friends. I want to work with you to find a way that you can still feel connected and included.

Child: It won’t work. This is just stupid.

You: I know it feels that way right now, and I’m sorry that this is so upsetting. Let’s agree to give it a try for a month. During that time, I’ll listen to how it’s going and we can adjust if needed. This isn’t about punishing you; it’s about finding the best way to help you balance everything.

Child: Fine, whatever.

You: Thank you. I really appreciate you being willing to try. I totally believe you can do this. We’ll get through this together. I just want to make sure you’re staying happy and healthy. Remember, I’m always here to talk and support you, no matter what.

So before taking social media away, brainstorm some activities that can replace those benefits of social media. Plan get-togethers with family, encourage your teens to hang out with friends, help them find a part-time job or new sport, discover a creative outlet like painting or sculpting, or go on a camping trip.

Rule Setting with Teenagers

When we perceive that our child is in danger, our knee-jerk reaction is to order that behavior to stop. We attach urgency to situations that we feel demand it. And in some rare cases, mandates for behavior change are needed, such as when a teen is driving drunk or in danger of being sextorted

Setting rules with teens can be tricky. Most of the time, mandating behavior is ineffective, both in the short- and long-term. Teenagers need to practice making decisions in the context of good boundaries. The teenage brain operates by taking risks based on perceived social rewards. This may explain why teenagers seem to make such irresponsible decisions for social media likes.

father puts hand on sad son's shoulder

Because teens have a new sense of awareness of their place in the social world, criticism will deeply affect them. As much as possible, parents should avoid being overly critical of their teenager. Instead, move on by setting healthy boundaries and being encouraging. 

Parents need to find the balance between giving teenagers healthy boundaries and being flexible to their changing psychology. While teens are building confidence and competence in decision-making, they must be part of the rule-setting process

This tool can help you create a social media plan for the family. Teens could also help plan screen-time alternatives like family outings and activities. 

Deleting Social Media Accounts

If you’ve decided to get your child off of social media, make sure that you delete their social media accounts, not just their app. Social media accounts like Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, TikTok, and Facebook can all be deleted easily.

You may also consider blocking social media app downloads on your child’s device.

Replacing Social Media with Healthier Solutions

When you’re trying to find activities to replace social media at home, it’s important to consider what kids like about social media and their emotional, social, and physical needs.

Social media is often used by teenagers to feel good when they’re feeling bad. They’re using social media as a distraction from difficult emotions. Practicing mindfulness and meditation as a family can create space for kids to feel their emotions safely and healthily.   

You may have given your child a social media account to save them from boredom, but studies show that boredom can help kids develop planning strategies, problem-solving skills, flexibility, and organizational skills. 

Kids may want to be on social media to connect with friends and family. While social media may seem like a great tool for connection, the research shows that using social media leads to increased feelings of isolation and separation from peers. Kids need real, face-to-face, uncurated interactions with friends and family. Connection can also be attained via technology and without social media through devices that don’t accommodate social media apps.

teen girl reading a book

Social media may also be used by teens to be more cognizant of world events and differing perspectives. News and novel experiences can be found in community and school events, through subscribing to free newsletters from reputable news outlets, and discovered at local museums and art galleries. 

Kids may want social media for the social affirmation they receive. But kids can build confidence by trying new things and making friends. 

What did we miss? How do you handle social media at your house? Let us know in the comments!

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