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Positive Social Media Use for Youth: 6 Recommendations to Guide Parents, Educators & Other Professionals

Positive Social Media Use for Youth: 6 Recommendations to Guide Parents, Educators & Other Professionals

By Elizabeth McDade-Montez, PhD | April 12, 2018
Director, Professional Learning Systems, ETR

Worried about social media’s influence on youth? A lot of people are.

In the first part of this blog post, I talked about some of the reasons we worry. I also reviewed research that shows that youth use of today’s social media is actually quite similar to the way youth in the past used more traditional media.

There are real challenges in social media, of course. Here are 6 recommendations that can guide parents and those who work with youth in supporting healthy use of these new tools.

What We Should Do

Here are my 6 recommendations for positive, healthy, social media use for youth (and grown-ups!):

1. Establish clear, healthy boundaries about social media and device use at home and/or in school.

Social media apps are built to be super appealing and entertaining. It's really easy to let them whisk us away until we realize we just spent 30 minutes scrolling through Instagram (guilty!).

The best way to prevent this is to set up expectations for children and youth around social media use (and smartphones in general) from the very beginning of access and ownership. Parents need to decide how much time they want their kids to spend online. When can they use their phones? When is it time to unplug?

Set these expectations up now with your own kids if you haven't already done so—or encourage the families you work with to do so. Some families tuck their phones away for the night in the kitchen so everyone can rest better. Many classrooms have no-phone policies. Some folks set timers for themselves to remember to move onto something else after a certain time browsing has passed.

It's okay to set boundaries and have clear expectations and consequences. And make sure these apply to yourself as well! Role model those healthy boundaries for the youth in your life. I try to remember to put my phone away during meals and any time someone wants to have a conversation with me at home.

2. Set clear expectations for online behavior and give youth tools to address challenges.

Beyond general use expectations, it's important to talk about specific actions that you want to encourage and discourage among youth. For example, if you’re a parent, you probably don't want your child taking and sharing nude photos. There may be certain sites or apps that you approve of, and others that you don't.

You can talk about what cyberbullying looks like and why it's wrong. It’s also vital to discuss who youth can turn to if they witness it or experience it themselves.

It's important to talk about basic online safety and privacy, including how to protect personal information and what to do about strangers online. Explain your concerns and listen to children’s and youth’s ideas as well. Set expectations for behavior and give youth the tools to handle challenging situations they are likely to experience.

3. Talk about pornography.

Online pornography is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. The best way to support kids in this new environment is to talk about it, ideally before youth are set loose in the online world.

Pornography can be problematic for a number of reasons. Luckily, these problems can be addressed with better sex education and discussions of consent, pleasure, patriarchy and healthy romantic relationships. Start talking about these issues early and prepare youth for what they'll encounter online.

Remember, children and teens are very likely to encounter porn online, even if they’re not seeking it out. How they handle it can be shaped by conversations they have with parents and educators.

4. Educate yourself on what youth are doing online.

Do you want to be fully aware and connected to children and youth today? Then you need to know about the apps they are using. There is no option to pass on this.

Find out what apps the children and youth in your life are using. Learn about the latest trends. Ask questions and talk to youth about social media use. What are they enjoying? Why? Who are they interacting with online? Who are their favorite influencers or online celebrities? Do they have any concerns about new online platforms?

You don't just have to ask the young ones in your life either. We've got access to tons of info on the latest apps at our fingertips on the internet. Read the latest news on these apps and use sites like CommonSense to stay abreast of some of the latest apps and trends for kids.

5. Remember the significance that social media has for many youth today.

Adolescence is a time for building peer connections. Today's youth are building those connections in person and online. It's important to acknowledge the meaning these apps have for many youth and to help them feel connected through social media in a way that supports their overall well-being.

6. Keep the door open for ongoing conversation and learning.

Just as with sex education, there needs to be more than just one "talk" about social media use and experiences. There will always be new apps and new online experiences. The more we can continue conversations with youth about challenges and successes online, the more we are able to support them. Regular conversations on the topic let youth know that they have someone who will listen and be supportive when challenges do arise.

No matter where the youth in your life are with social media right now, it's never too late to start having these conversations and to encourage a healthy, balanced relationship with social media use. So start talking, whether you’re a parent, educator or in some other role with youth.


Those are my recommendations, and I'd love to hear yours! How do you encourage healthy social media use for the youth in your lives? Leave a comment below!


Elizabeth McDade-Montez, PhD is a Senior Research Associate at ETR who has studied the influence of media on children and adolescents. She can be reached at

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