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How much is too much social media use?

Editor’s note: Dr. Will Hoffman, superintendent of Tyrrell County Schools, on April 27 forwarded to school faculty and staff the link to the article below:

Even though they’re no longer a couple, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie both recently confirmed they put safety measures on the Internet to provide boundaries for their children. They definitely plan to keep watch on their social media use as their children age. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently suggested he wouldn’t want his nephew on a social network. Years ago, Apple Founder Steve Jobs said he didn’t want his kids to even own an iPad. Why? It’s simple. Children’s health experts all agree that excessive use of digital devices and social media “are harmful to children and teens.”

On the other hand, so many of tomorrow’s jobs are going to be dependent on graduates having skills on computers and screens. I frequently meet faculty and parents who share these concerns about young professionals being ready for all the opportunities in the field of micro-technology, computer science, video production and IT jobs in general. After all, aren’t STEM jobs the future? And if so, don’t they all involve connecting on the Internet? While I’ve written on this issue before, I’d like to offer some practical counsel on this puzzling dilemma.

One study by UNICEF reports that “some time on social media is actually good” and that “digital technology seems to be beneficial for children’s social relationships.” On social media we can connect with friends, give to charities and be informed of what’s happening around the world. With too much time, however, screens can become damaging to our mental health. The key is to separate understandable concerns with actual data on the subject.

Believe it or not, the average teen today spends about 9 hours a day on a screen. That’s the equivalent of a full-time job. I don’t think we’re going to have to worry about the average graduate being savvy with the digital world. We may have to be concerned, however, about what it’s done to their emotional and mental health.

According to Monitoring the Future, just two hours on social media has been shown to contribute to anxiety and unhappiness among teens. So, I suggest, a 60-90 minute limit each day. The other hours should be filled with face-to-face hours with friends, sports, work, activities, studies and family. This ratio has been shown to produce happier kids and better students. Further, it results in more satisfied young adults. I recognize this will be a major shift for some teens—so if you choose to do this, start with a conversation about making a slow, steady change.

The most important improvement I notice in students who limit their use of social media is they remain in control of their lives. Their mobile device occupies a smaller and more appropriate portion of each day, rather than the dictator of their time and attention. Kids become less reactionary and more proactive with their day. Quite frankly, the smart phone is the number one distractor of our generation. Someone growing up in this world matures into a distracted adult who finds it difficult to manage their calendar or their priorities. They are always at the mercy of whoever is contacting them—instead of leading themselves well.

The most well-adjusted teens and young adults are able to discipline their time spent on a mobile device. They spread that time (60-90 minutes) throughout the day, connecting with friends, staying updated on important news headlines and posting updates on what they are doing for others to see. This enables the device to serve the user, but not enslave the user and become a source of anxiety.

Dr. Tim Elmore, President of Growing Leaders, is a best-selling author and international speaker who uses his expertise on Generations Y and Z to equip educators, coaches, leaders, parents, and other adults to impart practical life and leadership skills to young adults that will help them navigate through life.