It’s also not healthy for younger kids to be exposed to the social complexities intrinsic to social media, Dr. Heitner said. “Social comparison, and the potential to see events that you’re not included in or missing out on, can be painful,” she said.
What parents can do
One exercise Ms. Graber does with her digital-literacy students — and that parents could also try at home — is to ask kids to analyze how they spend their time over the course of a single day. Often, “they’re kind of surprised at how much time they spend on screens,” she said.
Next, she asks them to create a bucket list of 25 things they would do if screens didn’t exist and then suggests they take a 24-hour vacation from screens, encouraging them to accomplish some bucket-list tasks during that time.
“Believe it or not, they usually come back the next week and say, ‘You know what, that felt good,’” Ms. Graber said. The new Common Sense Media survey found that only 34 percent of teens said they liked using social media “a lot,” so many teens already have reservations about it and may welcome the break, she noted.
Parents may also want to sit down with their kids and create a technology agreement, Ms. Graber said, outlining various details including when and where kids can use screens and for how long. Perhaps younger kids can watch YouTube only when a parent is in the room with them, for instance.
“For a lot of kids, that’s going to be a good caution — ‘Oh, maybe I’m not going to click on the gross thing because my mom’s right there,’” Dr. Heitner said. When younger kids use screens alone, parents can limit their use to apps that adults can more easily control, such as Netflix or Disney+.
Perhaps most importantly, parents should regularly have conversations with their kids about screens and social media. Ask them which YouTube influencers they like and why, Ms. Graber suggested — or, if they’re on other platforms, ask them what they’re looking at and what they find interesting.