Teens and Tweens: Use These Tips to Navigate Social Media in a Safe and Healthy Way

While social media can offer numerous benefits, it’s important to be aware of its potential downsides. From feelings of inadequacy stemming from comparisons to cyberbullying and information overload, the digital realm can present challenges to mental health. This guide aims to provide valuable tips and strategies to maintain a healthy relationship with social media, minimize the potential negative impacts,  and foster a positive online experience.

The following tips are from Social Media and Youth Mental Health, an advisory from the U.S. Surgeon General.

Social Media Use Tips

Reach out for help. If you or someone you know is being negatively affected by social media, reach out to a trusted friend or adult for help. For information from experts, visit AAP’s Center of Excellence on Social Media and Youth Mental Health. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988 or chatting on 988lifeline.org for immediate help.

Create boundaries to help balance online and offline activities. Limit the use of phones, tablets, and computers for at least 1 hour before bedtime and through the night to enable sufficient and quality sleep. Keep mealtimes and in-person gatherings device-free to help build social bonds and engage in two-way conversations with others. Nurture your in-person relationships by connecting with others and making unplugged interactions a daily priority.

Develop protective strategies and healthy practices such as tracking the amount of time you spend online, blocking unwanted contacts and content, learning about and using available privacy and safety settings, learning and utilizing digital media literacy skills to help tell the difference between fact and opinion, and ensuring you are connecting with peers in-person. See this Tip Sheet on Social Media Use and Mental Health for healthy social media use created for and by young people.

Be cautious about what you share. Personal information about you has value. Be selective with what you post and share online and with whom, as it is often public and can be stored permanently. If you aren’t sure if you should post something, it’s usually best if you don’t. Talk to a family member or trusted adult to see if you should.

Protect yourself and others. Harassment that happens in email, text messaging, direct messaging, online games, or on social media is harmful and can be cyberbullying. It might involve trolling, rumors, or photos passed around for others to see – and it can leave people feeling angry, sad, ashamed, or hurt. If you or someone you know is the victim of cyberbullying or other forms of online harassment and abuse:

Don’t keep online harassment or abuse a secret. Reach out to at least one person you trust, such as a close friend, family member, counselor, or teacher, who can give you the help and support you deserve. Visit stopbullying.gov for helpful tips on how to report cyberbullying. If you have experienced online harassment and abuse by a dating partner, contact an expert at Love is Respect for support or if your private images have been taken and shared online without your permission, visit Take it Down to help get them removed.

Don’t take part in online harassment or abuse. Avoid forwarding or sharing messages or images and tell others to stop. Another way is to report offensive content to the site or network where you saw it.

Source: Office of the U.S. Surgeon General | Social Media and Youth Mental Health, https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/filesa/sg-youth-mental-health-social-media-advisory.pdf | Published May 2023. Public domain.

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