I heard a mom say, “When I go into my 9-year-old daughter’s room in the afternoon and I see her in bed under the covers on her tablet watching YouTube, I feel worried that it’s going to affect her mental health. And I don’t want her to miss out on playing with her friends.”
We’ve read the news headlines. We know that social media can impact kids’ mental health, especially for our girls.
But how do we talk to our kids about their screen use?
How do we have conversations about social media without overreacting or underestimating the risks?
And how do we talk to our kids and teens in a way that builds the relationship and trust with our kids, rather than just eye rolls and “you don’t get it”?
Here are 12 conversation starters to get kids talking about their social media use.
A lot of parents limit their child’s screen time, which makes sense. And ultimately as our kids grow up, we want them to start recognizing how social media and screens impact their feelings. We want our kids to be able to make thoughtful and healthy choices about their screen use.
These 12 conversation starters are a literal “cheat sheet” to get you and your child talking. Use these questions over several conversations–over the years–so that you can help your child or teen be more aware and more thoughtful about their screen use and social media consumption.
Put them in your own words and adjust for the age of your child.
- What do you use the screen for? (For example: Entertainment? Learning? Connecting with friends? Play? Relaxation? To change your mood? To help you fall asleep? Relieve boredom?)
- How does it help you–and not help you–accomplish that goal (from question #1)? Is there anything you’d like to change about how you use screens so that it would better meet your needs?
- How do you feel after you’ve been on a screen? Is that different than how you felt before you were on the screen? How do you think the screen caused your feelings to change? Besides screens, what other things in your life do you use to help change your mood?
- What is your favorite way of connecting with your friends (in person, on social media/messaging, through an online game, or on a phone call)? If it’s in person, how could we do that more in real life?
- Do you ever compare yourself to the people you see online? How do you think you match up?
- Do you think people do things to make themselves look better in videos? What do they do to make themselves look more attractive in a video? Would you ever change how you look for a video?
- Are people in the videos you watch better looking than people in your real life? What are the things that you look for in a video that you watch? For someone to be popular on social media, do you think it’s more important to be good-looking? Or funny? Or unique? Or smart? Or athletic?
- Sometimes kids or adults see pictures in magazines or billboards, actors, or people on social media and they think, “I should look like that too” and then they feel bad about themselves if they don’t. Do any of your friends ever think that way? Do you ever think that way about yourself?
- A lot of adults are concerned that being on social media makes kids feel worried or sad. How could social media negatively impact kids' feelings or mental health? Have you seen ways that social media has been used to improve someone’s mental health?
- Do you ever feel more worried or sad after you’ve spent time on a screen? When you feel sad or worried, what do you do about it?
- How do you think social media companies make money? If a social media company knows what their doing is unhealthy for kids, do you think it’s right for them to continue to do it?
- What are the things that social media platforms do to try to keep users on them for a long period of time? What are the things that social media platforms do to make you check your phone every day? What could social media companies do to encourage people to get off their platform? What could social media companies do to make their platform healthier for kids?
You’ll notice that these questions aren’t about limit setting, nor making kids feel guilty or defensive about time that they’ve spent on a screen.
Limit setting has its place in digital parenting too. But these questions are intended to engage your child or teen to be more thoughtful about their technology use, how it’s working for them (or not), and if there are things that they want to do differently.
If you struggle with parenting in the digital age Bright & Quirky has tips and tools from the top experts to create digital well-being for the entire family.
You and I can personally talk in there if you’re struggling to figure out how to talk to your child.