09/14/2018 09:37 EDT | Updated 09/14/2018 09:41 EDT

How To Help Teen Girls Use Social Media With Intention

Girls use social media to connect, to feel included, and to feel normal, as well as to relieve their stress.

Teens may be obsessed with social media but they also know they are using it a lot and they may need our help to decrease their usage. According to a new study from Pew Research Center, "Aided by the convenience and constant access provided by mobile devices, especially smartphones, 92 per cent of teens report going online daily — including 24 per cent who say they go online 'almost constantly'."

Given these statistics and your own experience of watching her do her homework while using Instagram and and being distracted by an incoming text alert, what can you do to guide her to be more intentional about her social media time and be more present? It begins with knowing the facts.

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Girls use social media to connect, to feel included, and to feel normal, as well as to relieve their stress. After a long day of school or a fight with a friend, all she'll want to do is dive into social media to "talk" to someone. Other times, girls use mindless scrolling to alleviate boredom. Girls come by their longing for connection honesty; their brains are wired to seek social connection to gain security, support, and comfort.

The only problem is that as she jumps into the world of social media, she's also subjecting herself to a lot of stress: feeling not good enough (when she sees polished and perfected images), feeling she's missing out (when she sees other girls hanging out at the mall and realizes she was not invited), and feeling pressure to constantly check her phone and update her online profile (where her full-time job is to post, evaluate her post's popularity, and then decide if she should delete it or try harder next time).

Not only is her body producing excessive cortisol, but her brain is rewiring as it adjusts to her multi-tasking ways.

Being there for her, especially in times of stress, may help her lean on you, not her online alternative.

Knowing what's happening for her is the first step, now how do we help her change her relationship with social media to be more intentional and aware. Here are three ways:

Ask Her To Check Her Intentions.

There's a big difference between going online because she feels good and going online to feel good. When girls feel good, they turn to their phones for fun. They may share pictures and posts for others to enjoy, they'll watch videos and laugh.

The risk of searching for attention and approval is that she is easily triggered and likely to feel worse about herself, not better. Social media is her default but she's really longing for is relational connection with you: your time and presence, your attention and validation, your encouragement and assurance, and the chance to do activities together. Being there for her, especially in times of stress, may help her lean on you, not her online alternative.

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Decide on Allocated Social Media Time.

Girls know they are going online "too much" but do they really know how much? According to CNN, the average teen spends up to nine hours each day using media. To raise awareness of time online, I work with girls on tracking usage and you can too, using apps such as Moment and AppDetox.

Every minute she does a quick check to see who has posted or responded to her, counts. By day's end she can gauge her usage and this could motivate her to reduce her time. This way, there is no judgment from you to "stop spending so much time on your iPhone" but rather the realization by her that "I didn't know I was using it that much"! The goal is not to eliminate usage altogether but to help her understand her usage. Then, she can decide how much time she chooses to be online and also activities to do off line.

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Prepare Her for Triggers.

Stressors are inevitable. So often, girls don't know what to do when they are activated by the popularity of a friend's post or a group of girls having fun at a party. We can definitely do some preventative work here, explaining to girls that her feelings of jealousy or loneliness are normal and understandable. Yet, in these moments she has choices such as taking a social media timeout, unfollowing or blocking someone causing her distress, or taking time to self-reflect on her life and what makes her most happy.

To be intentional about social media, we need to remind girls they have the power to check in with themselves about how to best use social media, to decide on how much time they want to spend on their devices, and to prepare for triggers.

Lindsay Sealey is the author of Growing Strong Girls: Practical Tools to Cultivate Connection in the Preteen Years now available on Amazon and Audible. She is also the founder and CEO of Bold New Girls and lives in Vancouver.

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