How to Wean Your Child Off Social Media

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You said yes to the social media app.

So many of your kid’s friends use this app so it seemed like the right thing to do (I’m the only person in the school without it!), but now you regret allowing it.

The constant selfies, the never-ending checking, viewing, responding, checking, checking, checking. It’s like they spend more time looking down at the screen and into the camera than they do looking other humans in the eye.

They say, “this is how we communicate,”  but to you, it doesn’t look like healthy communication.

What you see is obsession – if not addiction. You see how anxiety arises almost daily over streaks, stories, drama, and dependency. You see a parody of true relationships.

Can you relate to this?

One of the most common questions we receive at Brave Parenting is something like, “I’ve allowed Snapchat and now I wish I hadn’t – what do I do?”

It’s a great question. Do you take it away? If so, how do you keep them away? Do you delete the account? Do you just delete the app off their phone?

Realistically, these won’t work.

Dependency and addiction (whether to a substance, habit, or social media) causes the brain to work overtime in order to get the next hit. For adolescents and teens addicted to social media, this could possibly mean they acquire a “burner phone” or an old phone or device off a friend at school in order to gain access to their social media accounts. They could also use their friend’s phones to log into their account – that is, if their friend is willing to give up their own screen time. Basically, if you cut them off cold turkey they will find alternative ways to satiate their desires.

Therefore, like any addiction or dependency, the answer is to wean them off social media.

Step One: Choose One

First, how many social media accounts does your child have? If they have more than one account, they need to choose only ONE app/platform to keep. One platform because multiple platforms require more time, attention, and anxiety.

Do not allow your child to tell you it is impossible to choose ONE. You not only the have the authority but also the responsibility to help your child wean off.  Allow the burning concern you have over their screen-time, mental health, stress, and relationships drive you to enforce the weaning off process. Explain these concerns in love but ultimately, eliminating all but one cannot be optional. They can move forward with the ONE app they love the most.

Step Two: Block Access

The second step is to change the account password for the ONE account and delete or deactivate all other accounts. Essentially, this is to prevent them from continuing to use their same accounts on other devices. You cannot just delete the app from the phone or device itself.

Log out of the ONE Account and change the password to something only YOU know so they cannot log out and back creating new profiles.

Then delete or deactivate the other social media accounts so they are inaccessible.

This is where parents may say, “My child won’t give me the password to their account so I can change it or deactivate it!”

This is likely to happen, but remember social media is a privilege, not a right. Therefore, refusing to give passwords is a deal breaker. Your thirteen year-old should not have the authority to tell you what will happen on the phone you pay for her to use. Defiance in this way is the addiction and dependence talking – even more reason for you to step in and help your child recover. Take away the phone, cut off the service, and change your home WiFi password so they don’t have home internet access if they refuse to cooperate.

Another factor to consider is social media platforms that have a web presence such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram. To fully block access to these sites, you will need to block the websites from your home computers (Windows and Mac allow for this), their phone, and any other device in the home they can access the internet.

Step Three: Disable Download

Next you must disable the phone’s ability to download apps without your permission. Most specifically, the social media apps they have chosen to get rid of.

On an iPhone, when an app has previously been downloaded it can be re-downloaded from the Cloud without a password. You must disable the ability to download apps under the Parental Restrictions settings.

iPhones also come with Facebook and Twitter pre-installed and will need to be blocked. This is done under the Privacy area of Parental Restrictions.

Similarly, the Google Play store will continue to give access to the app after it has been deleted. Android phones need Norton App Lock installed to block the free download of social media apps.

Step Four: Whittle Down

This step can occur after a few weeks or months after your child is accustomed to only ONE app.  Help your child whittle down their friends and followers on their ONE account.

Do you know all of your child’s contacts, friends, and followers on their social media? You must. Using social media for “communication” with friends should equate to your child personally knowing every ‘friend/follower.’ In contrast, using social media to post boastful selfies and to gain likes, attention, and worship from as many people as possible is a whole different game.

If your child desires the app for communication then it is fair to require all of your child’s friends and followers to have one degree of separation from your child. Meaning, they have personally met and interacted with this person at school, church, or through family, sports, etc.

Do they have 200, 1100, or even 2000 friends/followers? Have them start by cutting it in half. After a month, have them cut it in half again. Repeat and repeat until you generally know every friend/follower connected with your child. Frankly, you should know them because real friends hang out together in person – not just over social media.

Step Five: Based On Age, Pull the Plug

Adolescent/Tweens (ages 8-12) should be weaned completely off their social media accounts.There is mounting evidence that the competition, comparison, and constant connection of social media is not only addictive, but equally damaging to their mental and emotional health.

Brave Parenting does not recommend any social media accounts before age 16, but if you insist your younger teen (age 13-15) can safely handle it AND you can monitor it, they could be allowed to keep their closest friends (10-15) in which they are “communicating” regularly with.  If they express concerns for their popularity while only having 10-15 social media friends, this is indicative of a deeper dependency and misplaced worth on the social media account. In this case, the social media isn’t for the communication they claim it allows.

If they are 16, help them maintain their social media presence on ONE platform in a healthy, positive way. Encourage them to set goals for disconnected time spent face to face with friends. Caution them about sharing material which will be viewed by colleges and employers in the future.

Be Brave.

Does your child think they cannot possibly live without social media? Are they casting you as the worst parent in the world? Are there tears, yelling, or gnashing of teeth? This is unhealthy dependency.

The truth is they can live without it. It’s your responsibility as a parent to show them how.

How is social media addiction different than an addiction to drugs or alcohol? Would you ever bare witness to your child’s heroin habit and assume, “Well, they’re already this deep in, how can they turn back now? They’ll hate me if I make them quit.”

Never.

And the same must be true of social media addiction. You should never knowingly allow your child to be addicted to the constant connection, striving for likes, and desire to be worshiped.

You may have said, “Yes,” but it is never too late to say, “No, you’ll only use this app on our terms,” or a good old fashioned, “No, we just aren’t going to use this app anymore.”

Be brave.

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Kelly Newcom

Kelly Newcom

Kelly is author of the book, Managing Media Creating Character, and the founder and executive editor of Brave Parenting. She is a mother of 7 foster-adopted children ages 10-20. Kelly is passionate to help others bravely parent counter to culture and societal norms. She believes parenting is Kingdom work and must be done with the courage and bravery of a warrior of God.

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