Study: Grounding your kids from social media might not work

Growing up, the most devastating thing to hear was, “You’re grounded.” Bummer, right?

That meant more chores, staying home on the weekends and no phone privileges. When my friends called (on our corded wall landline, of course), they were told I was grounded. How embarrassing!

But did it kill me? Nope. Still alive.

It used to be pretty simple. Breaking rules meant grounded from hanging out with friends.

But today, teens hang out virtually, leaving parents wondering if grounding should include social media.

Not just gossip for today’s teens

Recently, the Associated Press collaborated with the University of Chicago’s independent research organization, NORC. They produced a study indicating it could be more harmful to ground teens from social media than parents think.

Last December, researchers surveyed 790 teenagers ages 13-17 about forced and voluntary breaks from social media.

The study suggested it wasn’t just gossip that teens were losing out on. Besides missing out on news and current events, teens were removed from communities that often provide mental and emotional support during turbulent times.

Why teens break from social media

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this study is how many teens voluntarily take breaks from social media.

Among the findings:

  • 58 percent of teens took voluntarily breaks from all platforms.
  • 23 percent of teens have wanted to take a break but did not.
  • 60 percent of teens have taken three or more breaks.
  • 50 percent of teens say their breaks are a week or more.
  • Boys are more likely to take breaks lasting two weeks or more.

Teens who took breaks reported they had more time to do other things; were generally relieved; and felt connected to the important people in their lives.

Forced breaks triggers anxiety, bitterness

How many situations could have been diffused when we were teens if we had access to things like Messenger to talk it out with my friends? Too many! Right?

Grounding a teen from social media gets a teen’s attention, but is it the right kind of attention?

Not according to lead researcher Amanda Lenhart, a social media behavior expert.

She said 38 percent of teens forced to break from social media reported higher levels of anxiety and bitterness. Namely, toward their parents.

She said those teens had a harder time reconciling emotions upon being able to return to social media.

Yet two-thirds of teens still opt for voluntary breaks, Lenhart said. Teens who do “tend to handle the lack of constant contact with friends much better.”

How effective is social-media grounding?

Ultimately, grounding teens from social media doesn’t change teens’ long-term behavior, Lenhart said. The same is true for teens who opt for breaks.

Force-breaking teens from social media can agitate existing parent-child relationship issues, she said.

Lenhart suggested old-fashioned grounding as an alternative, from extra chores or extra school work to volunteer programs. Make them cancel weekend plans or after-school activities, or simply send them to their room.

“Often times children, even teens, just need a quiet and safe place to sort out their thoughts and emotions,” Lenhart said, adding that it is best done with traditional grounding.

My boys are not in their teenage years yet, but I can attest to that last statement. My special-needs son typically cools his jets after 10 to 15 minutes alone in his room.

Like All the Moms?

Follow us on Facebook.