How to Agree on Social Media Boundaries with Your Children

Feb 19, 2020 8 Min Read
social media

Among the parenting issues that play host to a range of opinions, knowing how much leeway to give when it comes to children and their social media use can be a tricky dilemma.

For anyone born before 2000, regular online communication and constant information consumption is something to which we’ve had to adapt. We remember well the pre-Internet age and might encourage our children to spend more time in the ‘real world’, where face-to-face interactions reign and tweeting is done by birds.

When I was growing up, we just ate our food. The idea of taking a photo of our dinner and sending it to others wasn’t just alien – it was unthinkable.

Conversely, today’s teenagers have grown up with the Internet and social media. For them, the pace of technological advancements isn’t moving at a rapid rate: it’s moving as it always has.

Social media is second nature to young people; while previous generations might marvel at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, these platforms have become old news – after all, Facebook is older than many of its users! Now, we have newer, more creative platforms to understand. (Remember when TikTok described the sound of a clock?)

When I was growing up, we just ate our food. The idea of taking a photo of our dinner and sending it to others wasn’t just alien – it was unthinkable.


Technological advancements and social media aren’t going anywhere. These play a significant role in all our lives, and their influence will continue to grow. Historically, people who didn’t grow up with particular technologies or devices have felt and will continue to feel considerable apprehension as they adjust to the current zeitgeist. It’s difficult adapting to change, but it’s necessary that we make the effort.

Nevertheless, parents’ concerns are understandable. In an interview with the New York Times, when a reporter suggested to Steve Jobs that his kids must love the iPad he said, “They haven’t used it … We limit how much technology our kids use at home.” 

Other tech executives revealed a similar pattern: they placed considerable restrictions on their families’ time with laptops, tablets and other smart devices, concerned about the potential issues that can arise from too much screen time.
It’s important to keep in mind that other tech executives have placed little to no restrictions on their families’ use of devices, and to be aware that research into the neurological effects of new technology is still ongoing.

As Amy Obren – a research fellow at Cambridge – notes:

“To talk about smartphones affecting the brain is a really slippery slope because there haven’t been a lot of brain-specific studies done. There is a widespread belief that smartphones cause a dopamine kick and dopamine kicks lead to addiction. Well, anything I do that is pleasurable will give me a dopamine kick, because it’s a signal for pleasure. I could be talking to my friends or eating a pizza. So even if smartphones do that, it’s circular reasoning.”


As with any new technology, early concerns – while understandable – can be exaggerated by adults, while young people often underestimate, or dismiss completely, the social problems that can arise with misuse or overuse as they focus squarely on the benefits of the latest gadget or platform.

Many parents will know that arguing about and placing strict limitations on any of their children’s interests leads to underlying – and even explicit – conflict that affects the parent-child relationship.

As parents, we want to protect our kids from any potential harm; as kids, they need space to explore their identity, express themselves, and communicate with their world.

Since, developmentally, children’s minds are less nuanced (and therefore view much of life in black-and-white terms), they might see short-term advantages and be blind to possible short or long-term disadvantages of what they’re doing.

Parents, therefore, are viewed by some as busy-bodies, people too old to understand, and too quick to interfere and judge. No doubt many of us held similar views when we were growing up.

So, how do we bridge the gap and improve generational understanding? How do we communicate our concerns while respecting our children’s need to grow and learn in their own way? And – as part of that growth – how do we enable our kids to see that, with every right and privilege, there’s a responsibility to themselves and others?


2017 study by UNICEF highlighted a number of benefits that come from social media, including connecting with friends, being informed about the world (from reputable sources) and learning new skills.

On the flip-side, too much screen time might lead to increased anxiety and stress levels as young people unfavourably compare their general lives to the highlights that others choose to show. There’s also the worry over cyber-bullying and other forms of abuse that parents want to ensure their children avoid at all costs.

While psychological research continues to examine the effects of short and long-term use of smart devices and social media, the general consensus appears to be that it’s not so much the technology itself that causes any harmful effects, but how we understand and use it.

To get the best out of devices and online platforms, parents and children need to understand each other’s perspective and agree on compromises that respect the perspective of the other party.

Now, let’s take a look at a few pointers that can be used to strike a balance when it comes to using social media and smart devices. Where possible…

1. Agree on screen time limits at home

When kids are involved in the rule-making process, they’re more likely to take ownership and be accountable to what’s been agreed. Of course, as the parent, you have the final say, but by making it a compromise, you’ll give your children a sense of autonomy and respect.

If possible, aim for a time between 1-2 hours, with the rest of the time suggested for sports, play, friends, and family time. Research has suggested that kids who have this kind of balance tend to be happier and perform better in their studies. Remember to involve them in the decision-making process.

2. Explain your concerns 

Many times, kids ‘act up’ when they don’t see the reason behind rules or their purpose. By talking to children about why you want to establish guidelines in the home you are more likely to get their buy-in to what you propose.

You can also go beyond concerns and discuss the more positive aspects such as the desire to spend more time with them, allow them to have hobbies, to spend time with friends, and so on.

3. Keep devices in open areas where you can see your child

It’s a good rule to prohibit the use of smart devices in the bedroom for various reasons – and one that adults could apply to themselves.

Psychological studies have shown that problems can arise with sleep and rest when we use devices at night – our minds begin to associate our rooms with work rather than sleep, and blue light emissions from smartphones and laptops can affect our quality of sleep
.
There’s no real need for devices to be used in the bedroom – a standard alarm clock can be used for wake up calls, and if need be, we adults can do some reading from an actual book up to an hour before we turn off the lights.

4. Model the kind of behaviour you expect to see

Granted, we might need to use our laptops for work during some evenings. That said, it’s important that we explain our own use of devices to our kids – especially if it differs from our expectations of their use.

Children can spot double standards, and while you needn’t follow rules you’ve set for them, keeping to some standard regarding your own screen time would be beneficial.

If we’re forever glued to our phones or laptops, can we really expect our children to respect the guidelines we set for them

5. Show an interest in what they’re up to online

To normalise the role that the Internet now plays in our lives, make it a part of daily conversations with your children.

Have they read anything interesting lately? How do they make use of their platforms (ask this in a “Help me to understand what TikTok is for…” manner)? What do they enjoy about a particular platform or website?

Having an interest in what your child does online will help you gain insights into their online behaviour and preferences. While you might not be privy to everything they do, it’ll let you see their general patterns, habits and interests.

6. Discuss what’s okay and not okay to share 

Children can often share information without thinking (adults can be just as mindless), and so it’s good to talk about what’s helpful to share and what should be kept private.

For example, you can say, “If you post your phone number online, where a lot of people can see it, what consequences might there be?” Encourage your kids to think critically for themselves – fearmongering will only invite them to roll their eyes.

Tell them you understand that, while there’s a good chance nothing bad will happen, it’s always better to be safe. Most of the time, seat belts don’t need to protect us; nevertheless, we wear seat belts for that one time when we really need them

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Roshan is the Founder and “Kuli” of the Leaderonomics Group of companies. He believes that everyone can be a leader and "make a dent in the universe," in their own special ways. He is featured on TV, radio and numerous publications sharing the Science of Building Leaders and on leadership development. Follow him at www.roshanthiran.com

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