By Julie Kucks
Summertime means freedom for many young people. It is a time to shut the books, click off the timers, and leave the obligations behind – which gives young people loads of free time. Free time can be wonderful, but it also can feel overwhelming and scary to manage. Many parents feel concerned about their child’s increased intake of social media during the summertime.
The tendency of parents is to totally remove screens from children during the summer months. But this is often an unsuccessful approach. A 2018 study of 2,000 European families found that 2 in 5 families had attempted a digital detox but only half were successful due to not being able to cope without phones.
Social media is now a part of ours and our children’s worlds. We think it’s important to teach young people how to interact with social media in a healthy way by becoming mindful of their emotions and mental states. That’s why we researched and came up with a few tips for how to help your child interact with social media in a more mindful way this summer.
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present with yourself and your surroundings. Practicing mindfulness helps to increase self-awareness of mental habits, behavior, and body function, helping you to better guide and choose between thoughts and feelings. This is an essential area of growth when interacting with social media whose platforms are built to keep the user scrolling mindlessly.
Encouraging your child to practice mindfulness will aid them in becoming aware of the way they feel when intaking social media, better equipping them to know when to stop scrolling and attend to their emotions.
Have your child spend 10-15 minutes a day practicing some form of meditation. This can be a breathing meditation or it can be a more specifically focused meditation such as practicing feelings of gratitude or joy. One app a member of our team regularly uses and enjoys is Aura which has guided meditations created by therapists from around the world as well as sleep hypnosis music to aid deep sleeping patterns. Another app that is specifically geared towards children is Smiling Mind, an easily navigable app with soothing, simple images and guides for meditation.
Establishing a mindfulness practice this summer is the first step to better social media intake.
Acceptance of Feelings
The Buddha, whenever assailed by dark thoughts and emotions, learned to welcome them. Rather than suppressing or avoiding or denying, he said the best way to handle this dark state was to make tea for it and sit with it.
It’s important for young people to know it’s OK to not feel or be OK. Social media has been discovered to directly affect young people’s mental health and self-esteem. When your child scrolls past hundreds of other people’s edited, glamorized photos, they subconsciously start comparing themselves. It is our responsibility to remind young people that social media is an illusion, that everyone has bad days, and that it is human nature to undergo a wide array of difficult emotional and mental states.
One way to help your young person accept and welcome all their emotions is to encourage them to keep a journal where they write out what they are feeling. It can be helpful to then write an accepting mantra such as “I accept how I feel right now” or “I fully accept my feelings” beneath this to get them in the habit of being with their emotions and mental patterns rather than hiding from them.
Another resource we found and really love is a video series created by the Child Mind Institute. The videos depict cleverly written and engaging skits, each dealing with a different emotional situation. The videos are coupled with a skills sheet that gives exercises for you and your child to work on together.
Awareness of Persona
It’s important for your child to cultivate awareness about how they present themselves online. The subtle difference between manifestation and painful pretending can be difficult to recognize. While your child posting a great selfie where they look happy when they actually feel sad can be their attempt to project a way they want to be or feel, it may make them feel more alone and disconnected.
Have conversations with your child about the differences between manifesting happiness or a positive mindset and creating a false persona. Remind them that they get to make choices about how they appear online and encourage them to remain in control of that. It’s possible to both create an image of themselves while also posting in an honest way.
Utilize THINK When Posting
Cyberbullying and threatening or cruel messages are a constant reality for young people today. As communication becomes more and more virtual, it becomes easier for young people to distance themselves from how their words and posts affect others.
Matthew Nance, the education specialist and leadership development specialist at Kiwanis International, created an acronym we found super helpful that he recommends encouraging young people to use so they better understand their responsibility when posting online.
T – is it Truthful
H – does it Help?
I – does it Inspire?
Encourage your young person to go through this thought process before posting. If a post doesn’t pass this litmus test, maybe it’s best to rethink putting it out into the world. Helping your child understand the deep power and responsibility they have in creating their content is vitally important.
Guard Technology with Technology
Another mindfulness technique for your child to develop this summer is becoming aware of how much and in what way they use their phone. Having self-awareness about screentime behavior will increase your young person’s ability to self-regulate and make wise decisions with their screen time. Fortunately, while technology has caused us many headaches, it also has our backs in this area.
There are many apps that are designed to run in the background to track the phone user’s habits. Apps like SPACE and Social Fever allow your young person to create their own self-management routine by tracking number of screen unlocks as well as screen time, and creating reminder settings to help them know when to put their phone down. Encourage your child to take their self-regulation and self-awareness into their own hands.
If you want to be more involved in this process, there are many parental control apps available as well. Net Nanny has been voted as the best overall parental control app for its website analysis which scans websites your child is viewing and sends alerts to your phone if they are deemed questionable. You also can set specific hourly allotments for screentime. Another app, Qustidio, is recommended for younger children and also includes screen time controls. Canopy is recommended for older children and is particularly focused on screening pornography and monitoring which apps are regularly used.
The world has changed rapidly. We are all very much still learning best practices to gracefully navigate the new technological world we’ve created. It is encouraging to remember that there are many resources for mental and emotional support today and that we can teach our young people how to utilize them to make their social media engagement safe and empowering.
Let’s shut the books for a season and make this summer a technologically mindful one!