Strategies to Help You and Your Child Develop Healthier Social Media Habits

 ADHD Weekly, January 18, 2024

The lure of breaking news, adorable dog videos, and life hacks—how to style your hair, increase your pickleball score, and paint your nails like a professional—is hard to avoid. It’s no wonder that many adults, teens, and even children have a hard time avoiding social media and may spend hours a day on their smartphones, tablets, or other devices. The downside of all this up-to-the-minute information, though, is that too much social media time can cause depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, poor sleep, and addiction. Putting some strategies in place can help limit the time spent online if you or your child can’t resist picking up the phone after that little “ding” from another notification.

ADHD and social media

Social media can be especially appealing for adults with ADHD because it provides instant gratification. It is more interesting than tasks requiring sustained attention, like work projects, housework, or paying bills. Numerous studies show a connection between ADHD and internet addiction (including social media and video game addiction) says Todd Love, PsyD, JD, LPC, BCC. Dr. Love is an expert in behavioral addictions and runs a men’s counseling and coaching practice in Georgia.

“The ADHD brain is predisposed to be drawn to the novel and shiny,” he says, “what’s more novel and shiny than downloading a new porn video, playing a video game, finding the absolute best shopping deal, or checking for updates on a social media feed?”

He adds that adults with ADHD can be more prone to having a problematic relationship with social media, and spending less time online is better for mental and physical wellbeing.

Children and teens, especially those with ADHD, can develop problems with social media use and spending increased amounts of time online. Higher rates of adolescent social media use in recent years led the American Psychological Association to recommend that parents talk to their children about healthy online habits. The APA states that parents should monitor their child’s social media use and have an ongoing conversation about the types of content their child engages with online. Parents need to consider their child’s developmental age and tailor what types of content their child can access. Parents can also take steps to be sure that their child’s social media use does not interfere with sleep or physical activity.

How do you know if social media use is becoming a problem? For adults, Dr. Love says three signs of internet or social media addiction include “unsuccessful attempts to quit or cut back, negative consequences (jeopardizing/losing a significant relationship, job, or educational opportunity), and continuation of the behavior despite negative consequences.”

The signs that social media use is becoming a problem are similar for children, adolescents, and teens. The APA states that parents should look for signs that their child uses social media despite wanting to stop, interference with necessary tasks, and dropping grades. The child may lose friendships, no longer do homework, or lie so they can continue using social media.

Developing healthy social media habits

How can you cut down on the time you or your child spend on social media? Lara Honos-Webb, PhD, and Pen King shared advice for parents in their presentation “ADHD Screen Fiends: Helping ADHD Children Navigate Social Media” during the 2023 Annual International Conference on ADHD. Dr. Honos-Webb, a clinical psychologist, suggests parents help their children build in a pause before they are tempted to check their social media. Texting your child reminder messages can help them overcome automatic responses to check their phone instantly when they receive a notification or before responding to a social media post. Examples of messages include “Tell yourself, I can always check my phone later, I will wait 15 minutes” or “Tell yourself STOP—Stop Think Observe Plan.”

Her advice to “stop, think, observe, plan” can help children, and adults, think about their actions and delay answering messages or scrolling through news feeds. Building in these pauses can help you or your child limit time on social media.

Stop the scroll

What about scrolling through social media feeds before going to bed? One way to limit screentime is to make sure that you aren’t on your phone at least one hour before bed. The blue light emitted by cellphones can interrupt your sleep cycle, so putting your phone away before bedtime can help you get a good night’s sleep.

Establishing a time limit for social media can also be helpful. Most smartphones have settings that can alert you or your child to how much time has been spent on social media. Becoming aware of how much time is spent watching video shorts or skimming posts can go a long way in developing better social media habits.

“Review your environment,” says Dr. Love. “Delete apps you don’t need, set limits on others; set up filtering, restrictions, and accountability systems.”

If you are struggling to manage social media use—your own or your child’s—it is important to ask for help and talk with your doctor or therapist. Social media addiction is more common than most people realize, especially for those living with ADHD symptoms.

“Unfortunately, many people have unhealthy relationships with the internet,” says Dr. Love. “They use it to avoid their problems, rather than learning to cope with real life.”

Further Reading:

Join the discussion: How has your family set healthy limits on social media use?