How to teach your teen healthy social media habits - Action for Healthy Kids
Open Search

How to teach your teen healthy social media habits

For many teens, social media is an important means for communicating with friends and connecting beyond their immediate communities. For many parents, their teen’s social media use can be a source of conflict or concern. Understanding the risks and best practices is one way to determine your family’s expectations around social media use and to ultimately nurture your child’s healthier relationship with technology.

Is social media bad for my teen?

According to the latest health advisory from the American Psychological Society (2023), social media platforms are technological tools that can offer both opportunities for authentic connection and the risk for increased mental health and well-being concerns including depression, anxiety, negative self-perceptions, and exposure to racist or hateful content.

The impact of social media on your teen will have to do with their personality, their vulnerabilities, their relationships in the real world, their digital media literacy, and other environmental factors. The types of accounts they follow, the algorithms, and the apparent and the concealed features built into platforms also play a significant role in the impact on teen health and well-being.

Children aged 10 to 14 are most likely to be easily influenced by what they see on social media because of where they are developmentally. Children this age are less likely to have the digital media literacy skills that allow them to be critical and thoughtful of what they see online. Their brains are also developing and they are especially sensitive to feedback from friends, both real and online, and are less able to exercise the self-control needed to monitor their own social media use.

What about younger children?

Most apps require users to be at least 13 years old. Because of this, there is little research on kids under 13, but younger children are likely more vulnerable to the risks involved in social media use because their brains are still developing the skills needed to use social media in a healthy, positive, balanced way.

What can parents do to nurture healthy social media use?

Parents and caregivers can help teens use social media for connection, inspiration, and creativity. Learning how to use technology safely and thoughtfully can help teens avoid the risks that can be associated with social media use. Parents can consider the following suggestions when determining their family’s social media use expectations.

  • Look at social media together. Keep an open-minded, curious approach about what they’re liking, following, and interested in. Remember that social media is an important part of teens’ lives. Being dismissive or judgmental can shut them down and shut you out. You can ask questions like: What makes that post funny/interesting/shocking to you? What do you think about that idea? Why do you think that person is following you? Why are you following that person?

  • Talk to your teen about how to tell if what they see online is true. Misinformation and deception is widespread online. Helping your child think critically about what they see is one way of supporting their digital literacy skills. You can ask questions like: Does that seem true? Where do you think that information coming from, and is that source trustworthy? How do you know? Why do you think this was posted? What do you think the post is trying to make you feel?
  • Talk to your teen about how to deal with hateful and deceptive content. Exposure to hateful content and social “standards” can have negative influences on mental health. You can interrupt this by teaching your child to question what they see on social media: Does that seem true? What do you think about that idea? How does that idea make you feel and think about yourself? Is that a message you get from other places?
  • Teach your teen to notice how social media affects them. Teens are still establishing their self-esteem, and so are especially vulnerable to negatively comparing themselves against what they see online. Help your child deal with this by reminding them: Many photos online are edited: they are likely not showing reality, and so comparing ourselves to what we see online doesn’t make much sense! Posters are deciding what they want to show; they are not showing all of reality. What story do you think they’re trying to tell here?
  • Encourage your teen to use social media to connect with friends. Messaging through social media apps can be an important and beneficial way for teens to connect with peers. Help your child distinguish between passive scrolling and engaging with friends online.
  • Set limits. Make use of parental controls within social media apps and on your child’s phone. Monitor how much time your child is spending on social media and encourage them to pay attention to it too. Consider setting time limits on daily social media use.
  • Model healthy habits. Your relationship to technology and social media will influence your children’s use! Consider incorporating ideas like:

    • Tracking your own time on social media.
    • Turning off social media notifications when possible.
    • Establishing screen-free time throughout the day or week.
    • Limiting the number of platforms you’re using.
    • Creating a family social media plan, and stick to it!

When should I be worried about my teen’s use?

Excessive social media use can cause brain reactions similar to those seen in gambling, substance use, or other addictive behaviors. Because of this, parents should monitor their teens’ use and behavior closely. The following signs can suggest that your child’s social media use may be problematic or negatively influencing their health:

  • They are not able to stop, even when they want to.
  • Their use is interfering with daily routines: sleep, meals, extracurricular activities, or work.
  • Their use is interfering with real-life relationships and schoolwork.
  • They experience cravings, or are lying or engaging in deceptive behavior to spend more time online.

What should I do if I’m worried about my child?

If your child is showing the above signs, or you are worried about their social media use for other reasons, talk to their pediatrician about your concerns. You can also learn more about the APA’s recommendations or the US Surgeon General’s advisory.


This project on Improving Mental, Behavioral and Academic Supports to Students and Families, Part 2 is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $434,555 with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by CDC/HHS, or the U.S. Government.