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Social media and our children: Tips for effective communication and setting boundaries.

Updated: Nov 23, 2022

Challenging times for our children

The media has reported recently that our children are the unhappiest they have been for 25 years. New data published by The Children’s Society is blaming excessive social media and turbulent friendships for increasing levels of loneliness and unhappiness.

The charity says increasing issues surrounding appearance and body image, combined with social media pressures, school, and a lack of strong friendships are potential factors for the cause of low happiness levels in 10-15 year olds.

Social media can also help young people learn about the world, form and build relationships, shape self-identity and express themselves. However, in some young people it can also increase the likelihood of anxiety, low self-efficacy and depression.

Modern life is undoubtedly challenging for our children. How can we, as parents, ensure we are communicating well with our children? How can we do our best to safeguard them from the potentially damaging aspects of the internet? How can we help them to have confidence in themselves?

The first thing we should be asking our children and young people is:

How do you manage every day?!

The children that I work with, and my own children, inspire me everyday with how they cope with all of these issues, and more, on a daily basis. We should invite them to see themselves as having existing strengths in their own lives, we should invite them to notice them, celebrate them and build on them.

The solution focused approach

As a solution focused practitioner, I have found the solution focused approach to be invaluable when working with children and young people and their families.

Solution focused therapy is all about focusing on a preferred future, what works well already (existing strengths and resources), and the language that we use to communicate with each other. It is a respectful and empowering way of communicating that enables families to see each other as an expert in their own lifes and within the family.

In this post we’ll look at how you can apply this approach with your own child, to encourage useful conversations, and hopefully, with that, a greater understanding of your child’s emotional wellbeing and behaviour.

Young people need to feel empowered

Research tells us that in order for interventions with young people to be effective, young people need to be respected. Young people thrive on respect. I have been saying this for some time now. But how do we do this while keeping them safe? How do we set boundaries while having them still respect us and when their brains are preparing them to separate from us?

When I ask young people what they hope to be different in their lives as a result of our work together, they visibly change. They relax, engage and open up. They start to talk openly about their hopes, their views on social media and their emotional wellbeing. I notice how wise and reflective they can be, how future-focused they can become.

We must remember that young people know more about social media than we do. They are living it in a way that we, as their parents, never have. They have most likely already made some good decisions to protect themselves from it. I find they are usually doing things to help them stay safe, to protect them from online threats such as bullying.

However, we are often ‘selling’ them answers rather than asking them questions, in a bid to safeguard them. But as a result, we are silencing their wisdom. If we invite a conversation that allows children and young people to share small but useful changes they have made in their lives, we can support them by noticing and building on those positives.

What I am inviting you to consider is that, how we communicate with our children, will have an impact on how they talk to us and how they feel about themselves.

Focus on small but useful change

When I worked as a solution focused social worker, I sometimes worked with families at the point of breakdown. These parents would be desperate for their child to be ‘fixed’ and I would ask them simply, ‘how did you all get here today?’

The whole family would sit before me and share a description of how they, as a family, had pulled together to get themselves to the meeting, because they all wanted things to be better.

I would also ask, ‘what’s been better since we spoke to arrange the appointment?”

More often than not, the family would be able to notice and share things that had gone well. We so often define ourselves by our problems, then becoming unable to notice what we do well, how we manage and cope.

Asking these types of questions enabled these families to have hope, and with this hope, they were able to reconnect, cooperate and collaborate to bring about useful change.

Be experts in yourselves

I recently ran a workshop with more than 60 secondary school parents on the sensitive topic of safeguarding. The parents told me they were looking for advice and support on how to protect their children’s mental health in relation to social media and bullying.

I invited them to notice what worked in their families and in how they communicated with their children. Many seemed perplexed by this question. They were not expecting to talk about their own relationship with their child.

So often, I find that when we are entrenched in a problem or fear, we see ourselves as being unable to find the solution. We want to seek answers from others, and see professionals as holding all the answers. In short, we want to be told what to do.

Feeling we need expert support can make us feel helpless and compound our issues further. When we become reliant on professionals to try and solve our problems for us, children and young people can lose hope in the possibility of change and their issues can escalate.

This said it is important to refer to make use of services such as your GP and CAMHS if you are concerned for your child’s safety and wellbeing.

It’s important to be open about how we feel and not to fear our own feelings. I write more about this topic in my recent post: Don’t be afraid to feel: the importance of understanding our emotions. []

Start a solution focused conversation

You are probably having solution focused conversations already within your family. Parents will often say to me something like: ‘Last week we had a really good conversation. He/she was really open and we discussed important things like phone use and curfews!’ Quite often this is followed by a ‘but’: “But we haven’t talked about it since and he/she is back to grunting at me.’ If a good, positive conversation happened, it’s important to identify what was different that time, what enabled that conversation to happen? What could you do to make it happen again?

One of the founders of the solution focused approach Steve De Shazer, refers to this as ‘tacking down the carpet’. In other words, don’t let a good idea slip away! What would be your best hopes for your next conversation? What could you do to make a useful plan with your child?

Tips for positive communication and setting boundaries

The children and young people I have worked with have told me what works for them. Based on their feedback, here are my top tips for holding positive, open discussions about these topics, and for setting some boundaries. Try these techniques and see what works in your family.

1. From an early age, talk to your children about the internet and internet safety. Information is power!

2. Don’t just read statistics. Discuss internet use as a family, set out what your hopes are around these issues, and discuss what would need to happen in order for these hopes to be achieved as a family.

3. When you have a discussion, let everyone have their time to talk, ensure everyone is truly listening and work together on any plan.

4. Negotiate open and clear boundaries around phone and internet use. In my home, we have negotiated a decision to not have electronic devices upstairs. Regularly revisit the reasons for these decisions as your children develop.

5. Try to eat together in the evening. Eating a meal together creates opportunities for discussion, openness and fun!

6. Talk to your children’s school to find out more about their policies on internet and social media use. What do they find aids discussion about the impact of social media?

7. Find a group or set up a group of parents, possibly with young people attending too, where everyone can talk about what they do that works to support their children and themselves in relation to internet use.

8. Offer your teenager some great reading to support them during this challenging time in their lives. Look out for author Nicola Morgan who has written a wonderful series of books for teenagers that can really help them to understand themselves better.

9. Finally, stop and write a list of what you already do well to support your children around the issues of social media and internet use. I have no doubt you are already doing a lot to support your children and these tips may help you build on that list.

10. Remember you and your children have existing strengths! There are lots of things that you and they do well/cope with every day! Talk about them with your family!

Final thoughts

If we are asking our young people what they want, if we are seeing them as experts in themselves with existing strengths, then they will feel better about themselves. They will talk to us and share more.

Our children and young people manage many things, many issues and emotions, every day of their lives. We must invite them to see themselves as heroes in their own lives. The children that I work with, and my own children, inspire me everyday by how they cope with the issues presented by life.

Perhaps you have some of your own advice or experience to share? I’d love to hear from you if you do. And if you’ve enjoyed reading this post, why not check out my blog regularly? Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram.


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