It’s time to have “the talk” with our kids (and ourselves) about social media. Why are we limiting our kid’s screen time? We need to answer that so we can clearly explain it to them.
We talk to them about safe sex, body positivity, drinking responsibly, sustainability and inclusivity among their peers. But we’re missing one very crucial topic, and no one has started the conversation.
Parents everywhere are being told to limit screen time.
Too many screens will damage our children’s eyesight, too many screens will affect their social skills, too many screens will rot their brains.
But what we aren’t being told, is what to do when they are on the screens. Because, newsflash, the screens aren’t going anywhere. In fact, they’re only becoming more present in our children’s lives. Their classwork is online, their homework is online, their friends are online, their games are online. THEY ARE ONLINE. And we need to start having a conversation with them about how to be smart, responsible and productive online.
Meanwhile, the “social media detox” is the latest trend sweeping the collective conscious. (Don’t believe me? Read this, this, this or this). From celebrities to social media influencers, soccer moms to college students, we’re obviously trying to figure out how to better manage our relationship with this technology. Forbes, The New York Times, CNBC and Entrepreneur magazine have all been publishing articles about this new trend.
But I think we’re missing the point when we talk about limiting our kid’s screen time by avoiding these two important follow-up questions:
1) Why do we need social media detoxes?
2) What can we do differently when we inevitably sign back on?
For example, back in 2013, I quit social media. I was burnt out from the dating scene. I had been running through Tinder like it was my job, and I was tired of giving up so much of myself- physically, emotionally, mentally- to never see a second date. So, I deleted my apps. And it felt great! Like when you go camping and sleep under the stars and pee in the woods and cook your food over a campfire. Back to the basics. It’s like a mental refresh. But you don’t stay in the woods. Just like you don’t stay offline. We always come back.
I took a few other breaks from social media after that one, usually during times when my mental health wasn’t optimal. Cutting out social media was an obvious choice because I could easily control that. I could delete the apps, stop the scrolling and instantly start feeling better. But when I eventually signed back on, like I continue to do, all of that “feeling better” started to fade away as instantly as it had appeared.
I liken my on-again, off-again relationship with social media to that of a yo-yo dieter. We’ve all dabbled in diet culture by now, right? So, let me present you with an analogy.
You’re becoming fed up with your lifestyle. You’ve let yourself go. You’re feeling sick and tired and not good enough. So, you think of something you can cut out of your life to start feeling better instantly! Let’s say you cut out sugar. You’re off the stuff for good. Total sugar detox. Almost instantly, you start feeling better. Your skin is glowing, you’re sleeping better, you have more energy and you’ve dropped 10 pounds without even blinking.
But then, you go to a wedding at the end of the month. And you’re feeling great wearing that dress you haven’t been able to zip up in years. But then you see it. The giant donut tower. Taunting you. Teasing you. Whispering sweet nothings in your ear. And what do you do, after an entire month of restricting yourself from eating any and all sugars? You make that donut tower your bitch. You eat every last one and get kicked out of the wedding for causing such a scene.
Wow. How shameful. How disgraceful. Aren’t you embarrassed?
Yeah, you probably are. You probably feel really gross and guilty and disappointed.
I’ll tell you why. You feel that way because, in your month of restricting yourself from sugar, you never developed a plan for once you began reintroducing sugar back into your life. Sugar isn’t going anywhere. And neither are the screens our kids use.
We are reading articles ad nauseam about limiting our kid’s screen time. But we aren’t having conversations with our kids about why it’s important to set healthy limitations with screens and how to be productive and responsible when they get back on them.
It’s easy to tell a 7-year-old kid that they have a certain amount of time on their iPad before they have to give it back to mommy. But try doing that to a 15-year-old. We’ve all been teenagers. Teenagers do whatever they want. And the more limitations they have, the more they want to defy those limitations. And if we don’t explain to them why certain limitations are healthy and important and teach them how to develop their own, we’re going to be in trouble.
We can never serve our kids sugar, but that doesn’t mean they’ll never taste it. We can make our kids sign an abstinence contract, but that doesn’t mean they’ll ignore their lustful teenage hormones. We can restrict them from ever being around alcohol, but that doesn’t mean they’ll never end up at a party and be offered some.
If we continue keeping things from our kids, they’ll never know how to handle those things when they inevitably show up in their lives later on. When they’re older. And more autonomous and independent and away from us.
I’ve participated in my fair share of social media detoxes, and the one thing I finally learned was how to make the most of the technology once I inevitably signed back on.
Firstly, I began developing my own boundaries to make it a place that felt productive and valuable and safe. For example, I privatized my personal Facebook and deleted almost 85% of my friends list. Only people who I cared about, and I knew cared about me made the cut. Secondly, I unfollowed every account that didn’t serve me or offer me value, or worse, made me feel shitty. In general, I became more intentional about my time, both online and offline. I committed to being a more conscious consumer of content, which as it turns out, led me to become a more conscious creator of content.
For instance, my 10-year-old stepson has a YouTube channel. He makes the coolest videos! He’s funny and talented and creative. And one day, he woke up and told me he had this amazing dream where he woke up and saw he had 1,000 new followers, and then another 1,000, and another and another. He was so happy. Until he woke up and realized it was a dream.
“Wow,” I said, “that is a really cool dream.” He nodded a big nod, smiling with eyes wide open to enthusiastically agree with me. Then I continued, “but it shouldn’t be the dream”. I went on to explain that if the only reason he’s making content is to gain followers then he needs to stop making content. It’s important we teach them that distinction. But we won’t be able to until we make it ourselves. Why are WE posting and creating content? Why are WE FOMO-ing ourselves to sleep? Why are WE getting burnt out online, so much so that every media outlet is running stories about taking social media detoxes?
Until we develop our own healthy limitations with technology, we’ll never be able to lead our kids by example.
Maybe it looks like deleting your apps on the weekends. Or not touching your phone until your morning routine is complete. Or keeping your phone in the other room when you’re with your kids. It’ll look a little different for everyone, but the idea remains the same. We need to learn how to practice safe scrolling so that when we have “the talk” with our kids about social media, we know the hell we’re talking about.
At our house, we’ve been trying to take this alternative approach to limiting our kid’s screen time. What methods have you tried? Do they work? Share with us in the comments!
I can talk endlessly about this topic. And that’s exactly why I’ve started my very own podcast, the Perfcked Podcast, where I can talk to real people about their relationships with social media and how they manage to build an online presence while living their regular lives. None of us know what the hell we’re doing, and it’s refreshing to hear that from the people who look like they’ve got it all together. So, I’m interviewing cool people from all over the internet (bloggers, influencers, YouTubers, actresses, musicians, entrepreneurs, authors) and I’m asking them to get real with me about their stories. The parts that don’t show up online in the filtered boxes and neatly crafter 140 characters.