Many teens love to scroll endlessly on social media. And hey, I can’t blame them — so do I. The pretty pictures, the life updates from friends, the pop culture gossip… it’s all so alluring, for some reason.

But unfortunately, social media has its negatives, too. For one, it’s easy to compare your life to other people’s and feel envious. It can also take time away from in-person friendships. Plus, it’s not always safe; teens may accidentally overshare information, experience cyberbullying, or be groomed by a sexual predator.

So at what point is your teen spending too much time on social media and hurting their mental health? Is it an hour? Five hours!? Here’s what you need to know:

Long story short, they’re probably on social media too much

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, teens are online almost nine hours a day — and that doesn’t even include their homework time.

As you can probably guess, that amount of time is way too long. According to a 2019 study with 12- to 15-year-olds, teens who are on social media for over three hours a day are at a higher risk for mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, and feelings of isolation.

Here are some warning signs to look out for

Can’t tell if your teen is spending too much time on social media? According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, some signs to look out for include:

●  Checking social media in the middle of a conversation

●  Withdrawing from family, friends, and extracurriculars

●  Feeling anxious when they can’t check their phone/social media

●  Lying about how much time they spend on their phone/social media

If reading these signs concerns you, don’t worry. There are ways to see how much time your teen spends each day on social media. 

You can check their usage in a couple of ways

If your teen scrolls through social media at different points throughout the day and when you’re not around, tracking how many hours they spend can be especially difficult.

However, you can see how many hours they’ve spent on their phone with a couple of options.  

First, for iPhones at least, you can go into the phone’s settings and click “Screen Time” then “Turn on screen time.” This allows you to see how much time they spend on their phone (in general, not just on social media) and even set time limits.

And for both iPhones and Google Pixels, you can download the latest version of Facebook, tap the menu button in the app, then click “Settings & Privacy.” After that, you can click “Your Time on Facebook” to see their usage and set reminders to spend less time on the app after a certain period of time. (However, keep in mind that most teens use Facebook rarely; they’re more often on Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok.)

Support your teen by figuring out the best way to communicate your boundaries first

Before grabbing your teen’s phone, however, you may want to have an empathetic conversation first so they’re less likely to hide their habits or feel you don’t trust them. You can share your concerns about social media and their well-being, and communicate your specific boundaries. This can help limit their time on social media and increase honest communication between you both.

Here’s how you can set a boundary around total time spent: “I know social media is fun to use, but I love you and am worried about how it can harm your mental health. Can you keep an eye on your usage through your settings and try to keep it under three hours? I trust you’ll do that, but if I get worried, I may want to check your phone. You don’t have to be perfect, but please try.”

And here’s how you can set boundaries around in-person time: “I love how you stay connected with family and friends through social media, but we’re not going to use it during dinner time or when we have friends over. Instead, during that time, I’d love for us to enjoy each other’s company!”

Having this open, honest, and empathetic communication is crucial in helping your child not fall into the temptations and unhealthy effects of social media use.

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About Ashley Broadwater

Ashley Broadwater is a freelance writer and graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media. She's been published in POPSUGAR, Medium, and more. You'll find her writing about body positivity, relationships, mental health, and entertainment regularly.

View all posts by Ashley Broadwater