How to host a social media detox for your teen or tween

Becky Worley is a technology correspondent for ABC News and “Good Morning America” who has been covering technology since 1998. She’s also a mom living in Oakland and, in this article, tackles how to put your teens on a social media detox.

Social media is perceived as an inevitable staple of a modern teen’s life. But new research suggests screen time is associated with anxiety and other mental health issues especially for 14 to 17-year-olds.

To get a feel for how Instagram and Snapchat impact a teen’s sense of happiness, we asked a group of 10 girls from Northern California aged 13 and 14 to quit all social media for two weeks. The teens and their parents allowed “GMA” follow their social media cleanse. Their reflections on life without social media gave an insight into the unforeseen consequences of this always-on technology.

Watch the video above to see how the teens fared with the experiment, how it changed their views on social media, or even better, start your own social media detox with a group of teens.

Here’s the full guide to follow if you want to try the social media detox with your own family or community.

Recruit friends (and their parents)
Of course, you can log off alone, but we found strength in numbers especially for teens (6 or 7 participants is optimal). Have participants invite friends to voluntarily give up social media. (You can even cut and paste this invite.)

One note — it’s powerful for parents to talk together without kids and for kids to talk together mostly without parents. In our experiment, some of the parents logged off social media for two weeks too!

The invite
“What would 2 weeks without social media be like? I’m going to log off and see what I experience without Instagram, Snapchat, and VSCO. Why don’t you join me? I’m inviting a few friends to try this experiment, and we will get together at my house on ____ date to discuss the results. Almost like a book club for our social media experiment. Are you in?”

Get it going
Start a group text (outside of their normal social media messaging services).
Pick the start and end date.

Send a message on Day 1 asking participants to delete the apps off their phones (they can reinstall in two weeks, all their photos and posts will still be there).

Keep a log or journal
In our experiment, the girls recorded video diary entries to note their experiences and shared them to an online photo album that they could all see.

Writing a journal entry on the experiment could also work, but neither is mandatory.

The finish line
When the two weeks is over, send a message telling the participants they can go back to their normal social media usage.

Talk it out
Invite participants to a gathering shortly after the experiment ends (2 to 3 days later). They will still have fresh memories of their experience, and will probably feel a little overwhelmed after logging back on.

The facilitator
We recommend one adult, who can be neutral on the topic, act as a facilitator for the kids.

Questions for the kids
What did it feel like to delete social media apps off your phones?
Did you feel alone?
Were you bored?
Did you miss out on any big online happenings?
What was it like for something cool to happen in your life and not be able to post?
Was it nice not to see things friends were doing that you hadn’t been invited to?
What did you do with your time?
Did you feel more connected to family?
Did you argue with your parents less?
Did you sleep better?
Were you more productive?
Did you lose streaks? Are you sad about that?
Did it affect any friendships? Make better friends? Lose friends?
When you were hanging out with friends what did you notice about their interactions with social media and their phones?

Questions for the parents
While the kids are meeting, it’s helpful for the parents to gather for some conversation as well.
What about this experiment did you like the most?
Was there anything you didn’t like? Anything unexpected?
How does social media compare to our childhoods where we talked incessantly on the phone or watched TV all weekend long?
What practices or rules work best in your house?
Did you quit social media during the 2 weeks?

Questions for kids and parents together (mostly parents listening)

To parents
In one sentence, what was your favorite thing about the social media detox? (Make sure to stick to only the positives here).

To kids
How would you like to change your social media usage?
What’s the optimal amount of time each day to be on your phones?
How can your parents help you change your habits? Would you like them to install time limits on your phone, possibly using new IOS parent controls? Or would you like to pick a day (days) of the week when you go phone-free or social media-free (Monday/Tuesday?)
How would you like your parents to change their habits?

Tell us @GMA if you organize your own social media cleanse and share how it went!

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