Pre teen girl on phone checking social media

Adolescent Mental Health and Social Media: 5 Tips to Help Children Develop Boundaries with Social Media

Since 2012, social media has significantly influenced our means of connecting with others, passing time, learning, and expressing our identities. For many of us, our lives are made easier with social media. However, there are considerable drawbacks with using social media, especially for children and adolescents. This article is written for parents, offering some information about the pros and cons of social media use, the harmful psychological impact it has on the developing person, and 5 tips to consider when helping your child learn to navigate social media use.

Data on Social Media

  • Over 80% of the population in the United States has a social networking profile
  • As of April 2022, the world’s most popular social platforms are Facebook and YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, WeChat, and TikTok (Datareportal). 
  • The typical social media user uses an average of 7 social media accounts monthly, and spends an average of 2.5 hours per day using social media (Pew Research Center). 

Research shows that social media is dominating our digital experience, and for a majority of the population, changing the way we socialize, express ourselves, debate, and more. Inherently social media is not a bad thing. For many who use it, the ease and speed of sharing and receiving information via social media is efficient and productive. The quality of socialization has grown so much with the ability to share, staying more frequently and casually connected to people important to us. For businesses, social media increases visibility, enabling companies to reach their audiences and share news and updates regularly.  While social media certainly has improved many of our lives, more studies are discovering that social media can seriously impact mental health and wellness, especially for younger people. 

Negative Impact of Social Media

Johnathan Haidt PhD, a social psychologist, researcher, and author of The Coddling of the American Mind, highlights the relationship between hours of social media use and increased rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide attempts among adolescents. Excessive use of social media has been shown to increase feelings of loneliness, reduce attention span, negatively affect sleep, and increase exposure to bullying and unrealistic views of other people’s lives. In a study published in  Nature Communications, girls experience a negative link between social media use and life satisfaction when they are 11-13 years old and boys when they are 14-15 years old. Increased social media use also predicts lower life satisfaction at age 19. Sensitivity to social media use may be connected to developmental changes, such as puberty or brain development, which occurs later in boys than in girls. For more on childhood development and self-esteem, please read Social Media and Self-Esteem – Thrive (

The 5 tips below outline proactive ways parents can help their children develop healthy boundaries with social media. Because children and adolescents are the most at-risk group for being harmed by the effects of social media, it is important to start early with education around social media management to equip children with the knowledge and skills to interact with social media in a healthy and balanced way. 

5 Tips to Help Children Develop Boundaries with Social Media

1. Model the Behavior You Want to See in Your Child

Set your own limits with social media and follow through. During family time, put your phone away. Consider initiating social media or digital detoxes with your family by turning your tech devices off or logging out during weekends, vacations, or evenings hours. We can all practice a bit more mindfulness by logging out. By modeling this behavior you are creating healthy practices for your whole family.

2. Set Boundaries Right Away When You Give Your Child their Tech Device

Deliver the rules to your child that you will stand by, and provide explanations to help your child understand the rational for the limits set. Set parental controls on their devices, with access to their passwords. Setting boundaries and providing education early helps equip them with their own ability to manage their social media usage as they become teenagers. 

3. Have Open Conversations with Your Child about Social Media

Have regular conversations about privacy, consent, inappropriate versus appropriate content, and engage in discussions around their usage. By being open and curious, you provide a safe space and outlet for your child to unpack their feelings and thoughts about social media, while remaining a source of information for when guidance is needed. Additionally, ask your child if they or their peers are being bullied. Discuss what bullying looks like, as it is not always as explicit as name calling. 

4. Encourage your Child to Practice Self Check-Ins

Have your child check in with themselves after using social media. Do you notice that after use they become quiet, distant, or irritable? Help them recognize their emotional patterns with social media use to increase their insight into their relationship with social media. Empower them to set and follow their own limits with social media use.

5. Consult a Professional if there are Signs of Depression, Anxiety, or Suicidal Ideation

Reach out for help from a professional if your child/ adolescent is struggling with self-esteem, bullying, body image issues, attention, self-harm, suicidal ideation, or other social challenges. While adolescence is a difficult transition period for many, it is important that adolescents feel validated and supported in their individual experience. Their struggle might be bigger than it appears, and a talk with your child’s doctor or a mental health professional could be the first step to getting your child the help they need.


US Social Media Statistics 2022 | US Internet & Mobile Stats – The Global Statistics

Global Social Media Statistics — DataReportal – Global Digital Insights

Social media use can be positive for mental health and well-being | News | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Social Media Use in 2021 | Pew Research Center and Demographics of Social Media Users and Adoption in the United States | Pew Research Center.

Social Media and Self-Esteem | Impact of Social Media on Youth | Child Mind Institute

Social Media | Jonathan Haidt

Facebook’s Dangerous Experiment on Teen Girls – The Atlantic

All Too Easy: Spreading Information Through Social Media – The Arkansas Journal of Social Change and Public Service – UA Little Rock (

The Effects of Social Media on Mental Health – Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health