Social media is here to stay. Ten short years ago it was a novelty. Now it’s our new normal. Apart from a holiday in a hard-to-find-no-wifi-zone, your teens would not be without it. It’s apparently the next best thing since sliced bread and has, in one decade, become the biggest social change we have encountered as a species in a very long time. 

When it comes to our rangatahi us parents now have the added pressure of keeping them off their devices  24/7. Ask any parent about addiction and you don’t need to look out of your house. Instead of addiction being something you could potentially steer your child away from, it is now expected we co-operate in the addiction. So much of our lives run on social media today. To live without access to social media is the exception, not the norm. 

Right now is a crucial time to stop and rethink our expectations, routines, and place of importance with social media. Yes, it’s a tool. And a useful tool. It’s also addictive. And developing brains are more susceptible to addiction. 

Our children’s brains keep growing right up to the age of 25. They grow especially fast from puberty onwards and during this growth time is when the defenses to addiction are down. As parents, it’s on us to manage the use of devices and social media actively. Leaving our children’s brains to be hijacked by the outside world is a bit like playing roulette with their lives. They may appear to be unaffected by their device consumption now, but high levels of use will have a knock-on effect that may not be apparent until later in their lives.

Already, parents may notice changes in their rangatahi like:

  • Less exercise and more being outdoors
  • More time spent alone in their rooms, with the door shut
  • Higher levels of anxiety
  • Less sleep
  • Strongly held opinions that are supported by unfiltered opinions and research

If alarm bells are ringing for you, great. Now is not the time to throw your hands in the air and take the ‘I don’t know what to do’ theme. Now is the time to engage your rangatahi in conversations about social media and your rules – yes, your rules, your boundaries – because you are the parent. 

Before you stomp down the hall and remove said device/s as your opening move I want you to freeze. Yes, you are the parent. Yes, you do have the right to remove their device. Probably though, that tactic won’t get you very far. Save that for your last, extreme act. If you get that far.

Don’t be tempted to launch into a lecture (disguised as a chat) about the evils of social media and your intended routine, I would like to reframe the way you approach this issue. It is not a case of, “I’m right, they’re wrong.” That is setting yourself up for failure before you begin. Instead, it’s a case of, “How can I meet my child where they are in order to understand where they’re coming from.” Together you can discover something new as opposed to changing their point of view. 

And for that to happen, you need to be conversational. A good listener. A parent who is genuinely interested in your child’s thoughts, opinions, and suggestions. The process of getting to the negotiating table could be as short as a week, or as long as a month. 

You’re approaching the contract making with a positive intention, with the belief that ‘together we can work this out.’ There will be a range of solutions on the table, some of which you may well be balking at internally. However, the next step is to evaluate all of these solutions thoroughly. Questions like, “How will this work?” and, “What are your thoughts?” go a long way to engaging your rangatahi in thoughtful dialogue. 

Eventually, the decision is yours. You pay for the device and the wifi to run it so ultimately the rules are yours. Now is a good time to negotiate clear consequences for a breach of the rules. From personal experience, the most effective consequences for device management are physical consequences that occupy their brains and their hands giving them less time to mull over the unfairness of it all. We’ve had dog walking, extra turns on dishwasher emptying, and stacking the wood as effective consequences. Just removing their device and leaving them to stew will result in a surly, uncommunicative teenager. 

Remember, social media is addictive. Your rangatahi are susceptible to addiction. Be empathetic to their position and, above all, keep talking to them and searching for a solution together. There’s no harm in going back to the negotiations with the new knowledge you now have from round 1 (or 2, or 3 …) 

You, the parent, are responsible for growing a great adult. Stick with it. Boundaries are nothing less than love in action.