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Practical Tips for Easing Kids' Social Media Anxiety

Common Sense Media logo Common Sense Media 3/15/2016 Sierra Filucci

Teens text, tweet, snap, and post like crazy. In fact, about half of teens use social media every day, and for some, this means checking Instagram or Snapchat dozens (or hundreds!) of times a day. While many teens find connecting with friends online a positive experience, some just feel stressed out. This social media-specific anxiety has a name: FOMO, also known as "fear of missing out."

FOMO can take many forms. Sometimes it's the worry that a friend might be upset if you don't respond to a message or post right away. It can also be feeling left out if everyone's posting pictures of a party or event you didn't attend (or, worse, weren't invited to). But more generally, it's the sense that exciting stuff is happening online constantly and if you're not online too, you're missing out.

While FOMO might sound like a silly acronym, it can have very un-silly consequences. Studies have found that the 24/7 nature of social media can lead to kids feeling like they need to check and respond to friends' posts or messages constantly. As you can imagine, this can lead to poor sleep quality, anxiety, and even depression.

Parents can help. If you see your kids struggling -- maybe they're always stressed out after being on the phone or they're staying up too late texting -- step in.

Listen. It can be easy to dismiss FOMO and other social media stress as superficial, but for many tweens and teens, social media is social life. The more you show you care about how they feel, the more open they'll be.

Don't judge. Snapchat seems a little dumb, doesn't it? But for tweens and teens, connecting with their peers is a normal part of child development. For you, it meant hours on the phone. For them, it means lots and lots of rainbow vomit.

Encourage their offline lives. FOMO can chip away at kids' self-esteem, but the best defense is a strong sense of what makes kids unique, worthy, and valuable. Help kids participate in sports, clubs, drama, or volunteer work to help them weather the ups and downs of social media anxiety.

Set limits. After all the listening and validating is over, set some basic limits around when and where the phone or computer can be used. Start with turning phones off an hour before bedtime and storing them in your room to help kids resist the temptation to stay up late texting. You can suggest they tell their friends they'll be signing off at a specific time, so they won't be expecting a response.

Shift the focus. If kids are feeling overwhelmed by keeping up with all the social stuff online, encourage them to focus on the creative side of Instagram, for example, instead. Entering photo contests or building a portfolio can shift the focus to the positive side of social media.

Ask open-ended questions. You don't need to solve their problems for them. But you can help them think about what is and isn't working for them. Here are some questions to try:

● Are there any habits you might want to change? (Such as not checking your phone before bed.)

● What would happen if you turned off your phone? For an hour? A day?

● Have you thought about rewarding yourself for not checking your phone or social media for a certain amount of time? (Make a game of it!)

● What are the pros and cons of using Instagram and other social-networking apps?

● What would happen if you unfollowed or unfriended someone who was making you feel bad on social media?

● Do you notice that you have better or worse reactions to posts or messages depending on how you feel that day?

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