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Preventing problematic social media use

Preventing problematic social media use

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To better understand

For many teens, digital media, including social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and TikTok, play a big role in their lives. They’re a main source of entertainment and the primary way that most teens communicate with each other.

There are many benefits to teenagers using digital media. It lets them get in touch quickly and easily with their peers, form a social network, and access endless information. But, it also comes with risks. For example, it can affect their sleep patterns, lead to less exercise, or have a negative impact on their mood. Some teens can even develop an addiction to digital media. (To learn more about the benefits and risks of using digital media, see our Screen time web sheet).

Many parents worry about their teen’s use of digital media. In a policy statement published on June 6, 2019, the Canadian Paediatric Society listed some signs of problematic screen use:

  • “Complaints about being bored or unhappy without access to technology;
  • Oppositional behaviour in response to screen time limits;
  • Screen use that interferes with sleep, school, or face-to-face interactions;
  • Screen time that interferes with offline play, physical activity, or socializing face-to-face;
  • Negative emotions following online interactions or video games or while texting.” (p. 414)

Problematic digital media use can affect teens’ mental health and negatively impact their social relationships. But rest assured: As a parent, there are a few things you can do to prevent this problem

Screen time and teens

Since your teen has a smart phone, are you worried about their online security? Do not panic! Catherine Dufour, social media specialist, tells you about some important features to know.

To better support


  • Talk to your teens about the benefits and risks of digital media, including social media.
  • Talk to your teen about the rules and about how to behave responsibly and respectfully on digital media.
  • Discuss the signs of problematic screen use.
  • Find out what your teen is doing online.
  • Talk about what digital media mean to your teen and what needs they serve (communication, meeting new people, gathering information).


  • Supervise your teen’s online activities; set limits on digital media use as a family.
  • With your teen’s input, set up parental controls on their devices to reduce the risk of exposure to inappropriate content.
  • Watch for signs that your teen’s digital media use is becoming a problem (not enough sleep or exercise, boredom with screen-free activities, socialization affected by digital media use, etc.).


  • Take an interest in your teen’s online activities (e.g., the new people they meet, the pages they view, the social media platforms they use).
  • Don’t demonize digital media or social media, which actually have many benefits for teens. Instead, examine the reasons why your teen is using them.
  • Participate in your teen’s online activities; watch some of the content together and then talk about it in an open, non-judgmental way.
  • Encourage your teen to take responsibility for their digital media use (what they do, what they say, how much time they spend online).
  • Support your teen in setting boundaries for their digital media use (e.g., setting time limits, identifying times when their phone is in “do not disturb” mode).
  • If you notice any changes in your teen’s behaviours or attitude toward their digital media use, talk to them about it respectfully and voice your concerns.
  • If your teen appears upset or anxious about their digital media use, listen to what they have to say and recommend ways to help them.

At home

  • Plan screen-free family time and activities.
  • Be an example to your teen by limiting your screen time and time spent on digital media.
  • Strike a balance at home between online and screen-free activities (e.g., no devices at mealtimes or in the bedroom).
  • Be open and compassionate at home; this will increase the chances your teen will tell you about any problems related to their digital media use.

Tips and tricks

  • Take advantage of your teen’s screen time to talk to them—gently and respectfully—about their online activities, the content they’re viewing, and the role digital media play in their life.
  • Use news stories about teens’ digital media use to start a discussion with your teen on the subject; ask their opinion and make comparisons to their situation.

In brief

  • For many teens, digital media play a big role in their lives. And while digital media are associated with many benefits, they also come with risks.
  • There are a few things you can do to prevent digital media use from becoming a problem for your teen, such as limiting screen time at home, planning screen-free family time, and doing activities that don’t involve devices. It’s a question of balance! You can even create a digital media plan for the family (check out the PAUSE family plan for inspiration).
  • If you notice any changes in your teen’s behaviours or attitude toward their digital media use, talk to them about it and speak to outside resources (health and social services professionals, school staff) as needed.

Resources and practical tools

1. For support:

If you are concerned about a situation, do not hesitate to reach out to a support worker or a healthcare professional:

Community organizations: family centre, youth centre, etc.

Some community organizations offer support programs for parents of teenagers. Call your local organization for information.

School staff members

If you fear for your teen’s or your own safety, call 911 or your local police department.

The police department can help you with cases of cyberbullying, sexting and the sharing of sexually explicit images, cyber exploitation, fraud, identity theft, etc.

Latest updates: october 2022

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