Setting Healthy Boundaries for Social Media & Cell Phone Use in Kids

Setting Healthy Boundaries for Social Media & Cell Phone Use in Kids

Post Date: Feb 21, 2024
Parent Support

Social media can be a powerful tool for connection, and cell phones have become an essential part of modern life. But when it comes to raising children, it’s hard to know what the best parenting tactics are as you guide them through some of the new challenges that come with technology.

Studies show that smartphones and social media use can have big impacts on youth mental health. As a parent, it can be difficult to know how to help your kids succeed in a digital world. Sometimes, it comes down to setting healthy boundaries with your kids.

Start with an open conversation

Talk to your kids about the impact that phones and social media can have. Listen to how they and their friends and peers view the impact on their lives. Be open with them if (and how) you’re monitoring their phone or social media use. You can also talk to them about bullying and problematic behavior sometimes romanticized on social media, like self-harm. Make sure they know how to protect personal data and are cautious when interacting with strangers on the internet. It all starts with a conversation.

Consider when to start allowing phone use

Experts recommend waiting until eighth grade to get kids their first phone if you can. You know your child best, and you have the best understanding of their emotional maturity. They might be able to take care of a cell phone or avoid racking up fees on in-app purchases without much guidance from you. Or you might need to give them a little more structure to set them up for success.

Use parental controls when you need to

If you do need to give your child a phone at a younger age, especially if they need to be able to contact you in an emergency or coordinate a ride, parental controls can help you manage their app use. And even for older kids, these can be a good boundary-setting tool. These controls come built into most phone operating systems, and you can also download third-party apps if you need more features.

Set up screen-free time in the day

Maybe you set family dinner each night as screen-free time, or phones stay off and away during breakfast. Make sure your kids understand the importance of connecting in real life, not just online. And when the phones are away, make sure everyone can stay present and have fun as a family.

Lean into time limits

You might set a time limit for overall screen time or time with particular apps. Pediatricians tend to recommend no more than two hours of screen time daily for kids ages 5 to 17, excluding doing homework. And they suggest even less for younger children—no screen time at all for kids under 2, except for video calls with friends and family. You can set up a screen time tracker on your child’s phone and set limits with them on how much they use it during the day.

Prioritize in-person interaction and physical tasks first

Don’t let screen usage come between your children and the most important things in life. Homework, in-person time with friends and family, school, sports and other extracurricular activities should all come first over screen time and time spent on social media. You can set that expectation with kids of all ages and stay consistent with your family policies.

Model positive behavior

It’s not just about what your kids are doing. If you’re having phone-free family time, make sure they know the rules apply to you as well. Turn your phone off, and be there with your family. And when you spend time on social media, be aware of how much attention you pay to your phone or computer over what’s going on around you. Your kids are always learning from you, whether you think you’re teaching them or not.

If you’re not sure where to start when parenting your children in the digital age, resources are out there to help you. CHP’s Parents as Teachers program and Parent Liaisons can both help put parents in Livingston and Park County on the right track as they navigate the big questions of parenthood.