Summertime means freedom for many young people. It is a time to shut the books, click off the timers, and leave the obligations behind – which gives young people loads of free time. Free time can be wonderful, but it also can feel overwhelming and scary to manage. Many parents feel concerned about their child’s increased intake of social media during the summertime.
The tendency of parents is to totally remove screens from young people during the summer months. But this is often an unsuccessful approach. A 2018 study of 2,000 European families found that 2 in 5 families had attempted a digital detox but only half were successful due to both parents and children not being able to cope without phones.
Social media is now a part of adult’s and young people’s worlds. We think it’s important for young people to learn how to interact with social media in a healthy way by becoming mindful of their emotions and mental states. That’s why we researched and came up with a few tips for how to help you as a young person or as a parent of a young person interact with social media in a more mindful way this summer.
1. Mindfulness Practice
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present with yourself and your surroundings. Practicing mindfulness helps to increase self-awareness of mental habits, behavior, and body function, helping you to better guide and choose between thoughts and feelings. This is an essential area of growth when interacting with social media whose platforms are built to keep the user scrolling mindlessly.
Practicing mindfulness will aid a young person or adult in becoming aware of the way they feel when intaking social media, better equipping them to know when to stop scrolling and attend to their emotions.
Spend 10-15 minutes a day practicing some form of meditation. This can be a breathing meditation or it can be a more specifically focused meditation such as practicing feelings of gratitude or joy. One app a member of our team regularly uses and enjoys is Aura which has guided meditations created by therapists from around the world as well as sleep hypnosis music to aid deep sleeping patterns. Another app that is specifically geared towards younger people is Smiling Mind, an easily navigable app with soothing, simple images and guides for meditation.
Establishing a mindfulness practice this summer is the first step to better social media intake.
2. Acceptance of Feelings
The Buddha, whenever assailed by dark thoughts and emotions, learned to welcome them. Rather than suppressing or avoiding or denying, he said the best way to handle this dark state was to make tea for it and sit with it.
It’s important for young people to know it’s OK to not feel or be OK. Social media has been discovered to directly affect young people’s mental health and self-esteem. When they scroll past hundreds of other people’s edited, glamorized photos, they subconsciously start comparing themselves. It is the responsibility of adults to remind young people that social media is an illusion, that everyone has bad days, and that it is human nature to undergo a wide array of difficult emotional and mental states.
One way to help yourself as a young person or adult accept and welcome all your emotions is to encourage keeping a journal where you write out what you are feeling. It can be helpful to then write an accepting mantra such as “I accept how I feel right now” or “I fully accept my feelings” beneath this to get in the habit of being with the emotions and mental patterns rather than hiding from them.
It can be difficult to identify precisely what a feeling is in the vast array of emotional experience. We find this emotional literacy wheel chart to be a helpful visual and prompt to assist in identifying a feeling – which is the first step to accepting it.
3. Awareness of Persona
It’s important for a young person to cultivate awareness about how they present themselves online. The subtle difference between manifestation and painful pretending can be difficult to recognize. While posting a great selfie of you looking happy when you actually feel sad can be an attempt to project a way you want to be or feel, it may make you feel more alone and disconnected.
Have conversations with yourself and the adults in your life about the differences between manifesting a positive mindset and creating a false persona. It’s important to remember that you get to make choices about how you appear online and to remain in control of that. It’s possible to both create an image of yourself while also posting in an honest way.
4. Utilize THINK When Posting
Cyber-bullying and threatening or cruel messages are a constant reality for young people today. As communication becomes more and more virtual, it becomes easier for young people to distance themselves from how their words and posts affect others.
Matthew Nance, education specialist and leadership development specialist at Kiwanis International, created an acronym we found super helpful that he recommends encouraging young people to use so they better understand their responsibility when posting online.
T – is it Truthful
H – does it Help?
I – does it Inspire?
N – is it Nice or Necessary?
K – is it Kind?
Encourage your young person to go through this thought-process before posting. If a post doesn’t pass this litmus test, maybe it’s best to rethink putting it out into the world. Understanding the deep power and responsibility young people have in creating their content is vitally important.
5. Guard Technology with Technology
Another mindfulness technique to develop this summer is becoming aware of how much and in what way you use your phone. Having self-awareness about screentime behavior will increase your ability to self-regulate and make wise decisions with screen time. Fortunately, while technology has caused us many headaches, it also has our backs in this area.
There are many apps that are designed to run in the background to track the phone user’s habits. Apps like SPACE and Social Fever allow you to create your own self-management routine by tracking number of screen unlocks as well as screen time, and creating reminder settings to help you know when to put your phone down. Take your self-regulation and self-awareness into your own hands!
If parents want to be more involved in this process, there are many parental control apps available as well. Net Nanny has been voted as the best overall parental control app for its website analysis which scans websites your child is viewing and sends alerts to your phone if they are deemed questionable. You also can set specific hourly allotments for screentime. Another app, Qustidio, is recommended for younger children and also includes screen time controls. Canopy is recommended for older children and is particularly focused on screening pornography and monitoring which apps are regularly used.
The world has changed rapidly. We are all very much still learning best practices to gracefully navigate the new technological world we’ve created. It is encouraging to remember that there are many resources for mental and emotional support today and that we can all learn how to utilize them to make our social media engagement safe and empowering.
Let’s shut the books for a season and make this summer a technologically mindful one!
--- Julie Kucks is a freelance content writer for New Jersey Institute of Nature and Cedar Hill Prep. Her work has also been featured in Fine Living Lancaster. Julie's writing interests include sustainable living practices, permaculture, mental health, and the power of breathwork. She also enjoys piano tuning, singing and songwriting, playing mountain dulcimer, hiking, and carousing with her kittens, Nike & Lionne.