I have two sons aged 13 and 16. The 16-year-old has been on social media since he was 14, mostly Instagram. The 13-year-old has just got TikTok.
I feel like they’re always on their phones and I’m worried they spend too much time on social media.
What’s a normal amount of time my kids should be spending on social media each day? I don’t want them to miss out, but I also want them to focus on school and their sport.
There is no normal amount of time a child should be spending on social media.
You’re right not to want your child to miss out on lots of activities, relationships and experiences. However, we need to consider that for teenagers, technology and social media form part of the experiences they will – and need – to have in their lives, rather than something that gets in the way of ‘real’ experiences.
A lot of advice to parents about technology has been excessively focused on ‘screen time’. However, more and more, researchers and professionals in the space are saying that the amount of time spent on screens or on social media is not the best indicator of wellbeing or support.
As parents, we often want a simple time limit but, as our kids become teenagers, the focus needs to be on what we value and how we behave when it comes to technology.
What do parents need to do?
Like everything, our child’s experience needs to be supported by a parent. We need to tell our kids, for example, when it’s a good time to put the screen down and think about bed; we need to nag them about helping around the house, we need to guide them towards a more balanced life by supporting their sporting activities or other hobbies.
However, we also need to respect that they’re not just ‘wasting time’ when they are on social media. In recent workshops with groups of Year 9 students I’ve been asking them to write on a wall what they want parents and teachers to know about technology and the answers are often sophisticated and revealing.
“Some bad things happen online, but that is not what happens most of the time.”
Students talked about this comment by explaining that they use social media and online video games as a way to ‘hang out with their friends’. They spend time there sharing, joking, laughing, learning to manage peer relationships – they are on TikTok or Instagram or Snapchat just being teenagers.
Our kids should be allowed to be teenagers and we need to see that part of being a teenager in 2020 and beyond is about living, communicating and being online.
Our job as parents is to do what parents always do, look after our kids. We need to talk to them and help put in measures if things get too much. We need to guide them through the challenges of relationships with friends and peers. And, we need to do these things knowing that it happens online and offline.
One boy wrote on our wall: “When we are playing games online we are spending time with our friends.”
In a world where kids are no longer spending time in public places doing the stuff teenagers have always done, creating private spaces online to hang out and stuff around is what they do. And that isn’t such a bad thing.
And what about TikTok?
Finally, when it comes to TikTok, don’t worry too much about what platform your child chooses. There are a lot of teens signing up to TikTok, and that makes sense – it is new and young people are curious and exploring different platforms is one of the things they do.
In our experience, the platform teenagers often end up using reflects the platform that most of their peers are using. This means students at one school may be on Instagram and on Snapchat at another school. As TikTok grows in popularity, there will be places where all the Year 9s are on TikTok, but the Year 12s still on Instagram.
Essentially, the platforms are used for the same reason: to be social. During our teenage years that is a very normal thing to want to be.