What Happens When Teens Take a Break from Social Media

Every month, we keep you informed on the latest studies and research in our “Not My Teen” blog series. Today, we’re looking at a recent study by the Associated Press and the University of Chicago’s independent research organization, NORC, which examines the circumstances that cause teens to take a break from social media.

It seems like teens know everything about every student in their school – but, how is that possible? The answer is simple: social media. Teens post everything on their preferred social platforms ranging from big life events, like being accepted into college, to the details of everyday life, like what they had for breakfast. Social media channels are also teens’ preferred news source, making the internet an integral part of their lives. So, what happens when teens unplug?

A Washington Post article examined a recent study that interviewed 790 teenagers about taking a break from social media and the circumstances that caused it. As it turns out, 58 percent of teens who use social media have taken at least one break. Of the teenagers who took breaks from social media, 65 percent voluntarily chose to take a step back, compared to the remaining percent who were forced to take a break, usually as a form of punishment.

Teenagers who were forced to cut all digital ties with friends and acquaintances reported increased anxiety that they were missing out and felt less connected to the people in their lives. However, teens who purposefully chose to cleanse themselves of social media said they felt relieved, had more time to pursue other interests and said the break helped them feel more connected to the people around them.

How can you use this information to become a more effective ‘digital parent?’ Here are three tips:

  1. Encourage activities that do not require cell phones. Help your teen get involved in extracurricular activities like playing a sport, taking an art class or joining the school band. While participating in these activities, they can’t use cell phones and will instead be connecting with their peers in person. These in-person interactions over shared interests can help your teen realize they don’t need constant access to the internet to have fun or keep tabs on friends.
  2. Consider alternative forms of punishment. Amanda Lenhart, the study’s lead researcher, states that, “The side effect of [forcing teens to take a break from social media] is taking away from potential emotional support and from access to information.” While teens should not get away with bad behavior, a complete disconnect from their friends or support systems can lead to anxiety and an increased affinity for the internet once they plug back in. Teens also receive school and extracurricular activity updates through social media, so removing it completely can be more harmful than parents realize. Instead, try limiting your teen’s social media time or monitoring their notifications to provide the necessary updates.
  3. Remind your teen to connect in other ways. In this digital age, it’s much easier to scroll through a news feed to get updates on friends, but there is another way: making a phone call or meeting up in person. Remind your teen that hearing someone’s voice and spending time with friends or family face-to-face can significantly enhance relationships. Additionally, while social media is convenient, it can also be worthwhile to take the time to read books, newspapers and magazines to stay informed.

What is your teen’s relationship with social media and how do you ensure your teen lives a balanced life? Let us know in the comments below!