#teensexting | #sexting | Escaping Social Media: Strategies for Parents and Teens | Family & Education

For a teenager, social media is almost impossible to escape. When I’m with my friends, they’re talking about the latest TikTok trends. When I’m alone, I’m watching singer/songwriter/dancer Jason Derulo’s latest Instagram video or sending memes to friends. It feels as if I’m missing out when I put my phone down, but I know there are risks to overusing social media.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 90 percent of teens have used social media, with 75 percent having at least one active social media profile. And with recent studies linking social media use to increased suicide rates, eating disorder risk and depression, the reasons to untangle teens from the grip of social media are increasingly evident.

“The biggest problem we see is that social media apps glorify suicide, self-injury and eating disorders,” says Dr. Zafar Rehmani, the psychiatry department medical director at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. And these effects are only exacerbated by rampant cyber-bullying, sexting and online harassment, which Rehmani cites as major factors for low self-confidence and even suicide.

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In an attempt to quell fears surrounding its products, Meta, the company that owns Facebook and Instagram, recently announced new teen safety tools and an expansion of Instagram’s parental supervision features. After sending an invite to their teen, parents can now designate specific times during the day to limit their teen’s Instagram use and see more information when their teen reports a post. “I think it’s a good step,” Rehmani says. “But it’s important to realize that this is something that [Facebook] and Instagram were forced to do because of pressure from the government.”

Meta has faced intense public scrutiny over the last year, including a Wall Street Journal investigation and a congressional hearing dealing, in part, with concerns for how the company’s products harm young users. “We’ve seen this in addictive industries like soda and tobacco,” Rehmani adds. “[Companies’] focus is to sell their products, and they modify advertisements to address their consumers’ concerns.”

Thankfully, certain strategies can mitigate social media’s negative effects. “One of the most important aspects is limiting social media exposure,” Rehmani says, stressing the importance of daily time limits, which can be implemented through the Screen Time feature in an iPhone’s built-in Settings app or Google’s Digital WellBeing app on the Android app store. Anyone can also set daily time limits or usage reminders via the Your Activity page in Instagram’s account settings, as well as on TikTok via the Digital Wellbeing page under the settings tab.

Notifications can also trigger social media use, creating the urge to open social media apps and respond to comments or messages. Users can disable these notifications through Do Not Disturb modes or move social media apps into hidden folders on their devices, keeping them out of sight.

Establishing “screen-free zones” is another worthwhile strategy. “If you go to a restaurant, you see a lot of families on their screens,” Rehmani says. “Parents should lead by example and put their phones down.” Families should communicate to designate a phone-free time of day, such as lunch or dinner, creating the opportunity to engage in real-life connections instead of scrolling through social media.

Rehmani also stresses the need for awareness: “Teens should be aware that photos on social media could be edited.” If teenagers know what they see is not real, they can avoid appearance anxieties and eating disorder behaviors.

So I myself took Rehmani’s advice for the week, dutifully disabling my Instagram notifications, designating my meals as “screen-free zones” and moving all my social media apps into hidden folders. At first, I missed the familiar buzz of Instagram letting me know that singer/actress/fashion designer/businesswoman Rihanna posted a new story. But as the week went on, it became easier to forget that Instagram or TikTok was even there, especially without pesky notifications pleading to be pressed and vibrant icons out of sight.

At the end of the week, I felt more engaged and relaxed than ever.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. This 24/7 service is free and will be available by simply dialing 988, beginning Saturday, July 16, in the U.S. For local mental health resources, visit namistl.org or talk with a health care professional about your concerns.

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