How to wean your child from social media

Instead of confiscating devices or starting fights, parents or other adult caretakers can respectfully help their child take stock of their mental health and cut down their use of social media

Updated - April 10, 2024 08:11 am IST

Published - April 10, 2024 08:02 am IST

Parents, teachers, and other concerned adults need to take a compassionate view when trying to help the children in their care who are addicted to social media [File]

Parents, teachers, and other concerned adults need to take a compassionate view when trying to help the children in their care who are addicted to social media [File] | Photo Credit: RAJU V

On February 1 in the U.S. Congress, as emotional family members held up photos of loved ones victimised through social media, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologised for the suffering they had experienced as he yet again said he would do more to protect young users.

On the other side of the world: Meta’s apps - Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and now Threads - are used by a growing number of Indian children. Apart from being a way to stay in touch with loved ones, these platforms are also sources of entertainment, news, and even income. Outside of this ecosystem, other addictive apps include X (formerly Twitter), Reddit, YouTube, Snapchat, Discord, Twitch, and TikTok.

Uncontrolled exposure to so many highly personalised, algorithmic feeds from a young age can result in a long list of easily avoidable consequences; the mildest issues are sleep disorders and mental health conditions, while the most extreme cases can include child sexual exploitation, human trafficking, radicalisation, or even death.

Using a smartphone in the Grayscale mode can help children curb the urge to scroll through colourful social media feeds

Using a smartphone in the Grayscale mode can help children curb the urge to scroll through colourful social media feeds | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Parents, teachers, and other concerned adults need to take a compassionate view when trying to help the children in their care who are addicted to social media. Instead of castigating a child over their scrolling habits or their late-night notifications, adults should help young people realise the adverse impact of social media on their physical and mental health, and help them draw digital boundaries on their own.

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By laying down this groundwork, your child is more likely to share their digital life with you and quickly approach you for help in case they or a friend are victims of a cyber crime. That is why communication is key.

Once you and your child are on the same page regarding social media usage, you can try out some methods together to cut down the time spent on apps.

Parents and children can check how many hours a day they spend on their phone’s social media apps

Parents and children can check how many hours a day they spend on their phone’s social media apps | Photo Credit: Google Pixel Settings

Practical tips to help your child get over their addiction to social media
The first step is to learn more about your child’s social media habits. In a calm and friendly manner, ask if they have friends they only know through online platforms. Find out which content creators they follow, their own public or private social media posting habits, the information they share online, and how they deal with trolls or bots. Also ask your child how they handle clickbait, violent content, hate speech, or adult media on their feeds.
You and your child can write down how much time you think you each spend on social media apps each day. After this, you can both check the app usage statistics on your phones in order to see what the real number is. Have a positive discussion and explore how this time could be better used.
Model good digital behaviour and cut down your own smartphone usage. If you spend hours posting on social media or use your own devices late in the night or allow notifications to disrupt family gatherings, you cannot expect your child to hold healthy digital boundaries. Meals, family movie nights, and restaurant outings should be kept strictly phone-free.
Do not immediately force your child to delete all of their social media accounts. Instead, suggest deactivation for a set period of time, such as a week, and check in regularly to see how the child feels without their social media apps.
Help your child turn off social media notifications on their devices. Also set up bedtime reminders, social media timers, blue light filters, or even grayscale screens on their phones in order to discourage frequent checking and unnecessary scrolling. Make it a rule for everyone in the house to go screen-free for at least an hour before bed.
Allow your child to use social media freely, but have them delete the apps from their phones and only access their accounts through a computer or a laptop, to prevent mindless scrolling on-the-go. Reels become a lot less addictive when watching them (and your time) go by on a rooted screen you cannot carry with you.
Have your child maintain detailed school notes on paper, and keep track of their homework with physical planners or calendars, to reduce their dependence on a class/school WhatsApp group. Suggest muting these groups and only checking them at set periods. Teachers should also refrain from frequently texting their students.
Encourage your child to meet their friends offline by providing assistance with transportation, funds, and supervision. Loosen curfews and help arrange outdoor playdates or classes so that your child chooses more outings with friends rather than chatting with them online at irregular hours.
Encourage your child to make phone calls to friends and relatives whenever possible, so that texting and social media messages become the last resort. Younger children can be taught to send letters or postcards to loved ones, in order to develop their motor skills and reduce their screen time.
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