I may be a millennial — entering this world when floppy disks and VHS were still all the rage — but the learning curve on social media addiction has come to its peak in my adulthood. Yes, as a fully-formed-frontal-lobe, 29-year-old adult, I’m so addicted to my phone.
I really do believe that, in many ways, teens are better off for having grown up with a phone attached to their hands. You may be over there ready to shut down this page after reading that line, but hear me out: When I was a teen in the early 2000s, social media was incredibly new and we had no idea how it would develop over the years. Although each new advancement slowly built upon the next, the technological curve that has happened in the last 20 years is night and day. While I have been formed by this drastic technological change and have had to awkwardly shift my mentality year after year, teens were born directly into the result of the mental shift. Ultimately, while it’s sad they will never know life before the demands of this constant online presence, they have the gift of learning how to navigate it in a healthy way from a very young age.
No matter how much I want to hibernate like a bear some days until social media is extinct from the Earth, I have come to realize it is here to stay. And, the great gifts that these platforms have to give are pretty cool. It is in learning the potential pitfalls that we can most appropriately prepare our teens for the future.
One of the most effective ways you can help your teen have a healthy relationship with social media is through the teaching and advocacy of social media cleanses. Below are some tips on how to conduct this helpful exercise.
What Is a Social Media Cleanse? A social media cleanse is an intentional disconnecting or limiting of social media use over a set period of time.
Why Is a Social Media Cleanse Important? Social media cleanses help to reset and reprioritize the use of social media in one’s day and, ultimately, life. The goal is to help your teen understand their motivations for using social media and give them a necessary break in order to cut any addictive habits connected to social media usage.
How to Recognize the Need for a Cleanse: The root of knowing a cleanse is needed really comes in answering the following question: Has social media started to negatively affect otherwise healthy areas of your life? (For example, ask your teen if they feel the need to post or check their phone for alerts in the middle of dinner with family or while they are hanging out with friends. Or if the lack of comments and likes negatively affects the way they view themselves.) If the answer is yes, then perhaps it’s time for a cleanse.
But, before you begin to encourage your teen to do a social media cleanse, it’s important for both you and your teen to recognize that cutting social media out (temporarily or long term) is not going to solve the problem in and of itself. Often these social platforms act as a catalyst to unveil deeper problems, but detaching from the addictive quality of this social tool will give teens the needed clarity to recognize exactly what area of their lives, through your guidance, is in need of healing.
A Social Media Cleanse: In Steps
Help your Teen Prepare for a Cleanse*
- Once your teen has decided a cleanse is the right step for them, ask them what they think a realistic amount of time is for them to be off social media. Based on their recommendation, help them choose a start and end date, ideally lasting at least 24 hours.
- Encourage your teen to find a friend to participate with them.
- If desired, suggest to your teen the option of letting their followers know through a post they will be away for a period of time. If questioned, gently explain that this acts as a way to inform everyone about their absence and (potentially) inspire others to recognize the same need in their life.
- Encourage them to disable all social media notifications — on their phone, to their email, on their desktop. Offer them the idea to log out of all apps or delete the app entirely from their phone.
How to Support Your Teen During Their Cleanse
- Whenever your teen is tempted to open their social media account, gently walk them through the following questions: “What is triggering you to want to open your profile? Is it loneliness, a desire for attention, boredom?” Encourage them to note that specific trigger and plan an alternative activity (such as going for a walk, reading a book, journaling, etc.) when they have that same feeling in the future.
- Encourage them to call or text their friend whenever needed.
- Remind them that this is temporary.
How to Support Your Teen After Their Cleanse
- Schedule a time over dinner or coffee to follow up with them on their experience. In your discussion, offer them time to recognize what this period away from social media felt like. Ask them what was beneficial about it and if there is anything they would like to change about their social media usage in the future.
- If your teen responds well to written-out goals, encourage them to develop a mission statement for social media they can keep coming back to. For example: “Social media is a place for me to connect about my life, not to gain followers or likes.”
- Remind them that this practice of a social media cleanse is always easy and free, and encourage them to utilize it whenever they need another break in the future.
I can definitely say, in my experience, that social media cleanses are the best and most effective way to re-center and re-prioritize my social media use. I am a much better human when I can put the addictive quality of social media in its place and proclaim I am stronger than my bad habits. I honestly believe this can be a reality for the teens in your life, as well!
Know of my solidarity and prayers for you on this journey.
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*Author’s note: As you work through this cleanse with your teen, remember that any kind of forced instruction/implementation will potentially amplify their distaste for this practice. Use this step-by-step instruction only as a guide for discussion, ultimately letting them lead and being there to support them when they look to you for guidance.