Helping Teens Navigate Social Media

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Tips for Parents in a World Full of Screens

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – YouTube, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other sites have utterly captured the attention of our nation, including children and teenagers. How can parents navigate this new terrain? University of Tennessee Extension has tips and advice for parents who are struggling to teach their children and teens how to use technology responsibly. 

“Parents are their children’s primary teachers,” says Heather S. Wallace, assistant professor of family and consumer sciences. “In conversations all through their lives, we teach our children how to talk to people, how to clean, how to share with others, and we can teach them how to responsibly and safely use social media.”

Wallace states that for most parents, the technological landscape is so vast that it can feel overwhelming. She suggests allowing only one social media site to be used when children and teens first receive a smart device. “A single site feels more manageable for parents, and makes helping their teen navigate safe online communication much easier,” says the development expert. “Kids need to walk before they run, and that’s extremely true on the internet, where the repercussions for stumbling can sometimes be severe and permanent.” She suggests using a single site for a set amount of time, like six months to a year, and then adding other sites or channels as parents feel comfortable. Parents should also always have ready access to their child’s login and password information. Privacy is not a basic human right, but should be earned over time as the child displays responsible behavior, recommends Wallace.  

Another tactic parents can use when it comes to their children and social media is to limit their own use of devices, technology, and social networking. “Our kids see and hear nearly everything we do, and we are modeling what healthy technology use is, even if our own habits aren’t that great,” continues Wallace. Having family-wide rules like no screens during dinner or regular “black out” days can help curb everyone’s use of social media and help establish healthy screen use patterns. “And absolutely limit screen time during family vacations,” advises Wallace. “It’s one thing to pull out a phone to capture a special moment in a photo, but it’s extremely detrimental to spend what precious down time you have glued to technology.”

Some parents may find it helpful to inform their children and teenagers of how much their cell phone or device costs each month and contribute to that cost from either an allowance, money earned from completing chores, or a summer job. “If children and teens understand that devices, screen time and using social media are privileges that must be earned, it can help them treat those outlets with respect and wisdom,” states the expert.

For parents who feel they need extra help, UT Extension offers a four-session program called “Digi_Life.” UT Extension leaders can help parents navigate different facets of technology and make wise deicions about when to get their child a smart device, how to set boundaries around its usage, and what apps are riskiest. For information on Digi_Life classes or for more parenting resources, contact the family and consumer sciences agent at your local county Extension office. You can also visit the UT Extension Family and Consumer Sciences website at

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Heather S. Wallace

Department of Family and Consumer Sciences



Heather S. Wallace