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4/20/23 blog post

talking to kids and teens about social media challenges

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The Benadryl challenge…
The blackout challenge…
The skull breaker challenge…

It seems like every few months there is a new TikTok trend or challenge that can cause harm to our kids and teens. For those of us who did not grow up with this type of technology, it can feel like our kids are speaking another language. How can we best keep them safe?

Social media is like a lot of other activities—it has benefits and risks. You can help your child by having regular conversations about social media and setting boundaries as a family.

Parents know it is impossible to keep up with everything their child is looking at online. Even with the most secure parental control apps, kids will find a way to access the apps and websites they want. That is why it is so important to build a trusting and open relationship with your child by having regular conversations. Try to practice using open-ended questions about their social media use.

Here are some examples:

  • Who do you follow and why?
  • How do you feel when people like (or don’t like) your post?
  • What is your favorite thing to do on this app and why?
  • How do you feel when you are on social media?
  • What have you seen that has made you feel uncomfortable?
  • Do you have to try to accept a challenge to be liked or fit in?

If the answer is “yes” to that last question, spend time talking with your child about why they feel that way and how this is a concern.

having the conversation

While talking to your teen or child, try to keep a neutral tone and body language to encourage them to keep talking. You want them to feel like they can share without being judged by you or overwhelmed. It is important to spend more time listening than asking questions. Your teen or child will want to fill the silence and will start opening up more. To start:

  • Ask your teen to be your social media “tour guide.” They will appreciate getting a chance to teach you something for a change!
  • Ask them to show you around their favorite apps or websites.
  • Ask them to show you their favorite video, channel, or online influencer.
  • You can also ask them to show you the most inspiring thing they saw online, or the silliest or the scariest. Set aside judgement and manage any initial reactions you might have. You can address these concerns later, right now you are sitting back and learning.

If you have heard about some risky trend in the news, ask them about it. You could say, “Have you heard about the Benadryl challenge? What is it? Do you know anyone who has tried it?” This will allow you to learn more about what they have seen online. You then can educate them on the dangers of the specific challenge or trend. Also talk to them about peer pressure: how to say “no” and what makes a true friend.

If you have concerns about your child’s social media use, here are some ways you can address it:

  • Bring up your concerns in a caring way. Let them know that you are concerned about them because you love them and want to keep them safe.
  • Help them set boundaries for their use and support them by helping implement positive coping strategies. You can help your teen increase other social activities as they decrease their social media time. That might mean that you help encourage real-life meetups with friends or even offer your house as a place for them to hang out with a friend.
  • Help them find opportunities for physical activities: drive them to a rec center, go for a walk with them, or play a family game of basketball at a local park.

Monitor your own phone use and habits to see if you’re:

  • Telling your kids to turn the screens off while scrolling through your own phone
  • Feeling anxious or distressed when you are away from your phone
  • Using technology to avoid other obligations
  • Checking work emails when you are “off the clock” instead of spending time with family

Here are some ways you can set healthy boundaries for screen time with your whole family:

  • Keep bedrooms “device free.” Set-up a charging station in a common area to leave your devices at night. That might mean you’ll need an old-fashioned alarm clock in the bedrooms to wake you up instead, but those phones will no longer be a late-night distraction! It will also eliminate your teen or child coming across something concerning online without a parent to help them cope or filter the information
  • Designate the dinner table a “no technology zone.” No devices will be allowed during family dinner.
  • Pick important times of the day, like when you first get home from work and school, to put the phones away! Catch up with your family about what they learned during the day and how they are doing.
  • Create a social media plan with your family. Whether your child has started exploring social media or not, your family can work together to come up with a plan that everyone can agree on. Using social media responsibly doesn’t just happen easily, it requires regular conversation and even routine updates! If you don’t know where to start, we have created an easy-to-use template to help make a social media plan that works for all.

Also educate yourself about parent control options:

  • TikTok Family pairing:
    • TikTok Family pairing is available through the app itself and it is free.
    • It allows parents to see what their child or teen is looking at remotely. The parent can also set screen time limits and turn off direct messages.
    • Parents can also turn on restricted mode to filter out to filter out mature content. Please note that these filters don’t always filter out all things that parents are concerned about so parents should still be monitoring their child’s viewing in other ways.
  • Look into other parental control apps or services.
    • The Montgomery County Prevention Coalition Gaming and Gambling Subcommittee has a landing page with some suggestions for parental controls on different types of devices. Click here to access.
    • Click here to see other parental control app suggestions.

Emily Weitz, BSW, LSW

Outreach Coordinator
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