Today’s generation is pressured to be what society deems “perfect.” Although you don’t actually need to be perfect, there is pressure to have a perfectly curated online presence. This is partly due to our relationship with social media and the ability to see what everyone is doing all the time at the click of a button. For many of us, social media has become a place where we compare ourselves to others on everything from appearance to social status. Whether we’re aware of it or not, social media is a significant contributor to how we view other people and how other people view us. This can be mentally exhausting. Plus, consuming social media content for hours on end can slowly start to replace our real-life connections and experiences. According to a study by Common Sense Media, in 2021, the average teen spent over 14 hours a week on social media. Given this, maybe we should consider setting some healthy boundaries with our time spent on these platforms.
Looking in the mirror
Before we can draw a boundary, we need to figure out where the line should exist. So, first, consider what it is that you like about social media. You may like, for example, seeing what friends are doing or keeping up with the latest trends. That’s okay. Social media in moderation IS a great way to stay connected. Still, according to the same survey mentioned above, almost everyone overindulges, with the average teen spending nearly two hours a day on social media. So, suppose you’ve realized that the hours you spend scrolling through Instagram could be better spent mastering a hobby, learning a language, sleeping, or reducing procrastination. If this sounds familiar, you might want to reconsider how you use social media.
We all want a break after a long day or a stressful situation. It can become instinct to check our social media because of how accessible and mindless the scrolling is. After all, scrolling online releases pleasure chemicals in our brains. Often, what we think might be a short scroll can turn into hours of consumption. Over time, this can subtly become an addiction for some social media users, who turn to social media for a “quick hit” of content many times throughout the day.
You are what you eat,
The saying “you are what you eat” is true, and the content we consume impacts our minds and how we think. From everything to music, videos, and pictures, what we see and hear affects us. It’s not surprising, then, that excessive social media consumption can heighten anxiety and depression. It can also lower individuals’ self-esteem. Why? Social media is not reality. Instead, it’s where people purposely share pics of hanging out with friends, personal achievements, vacations, and positive highlights of their lives for others to see. It is uncommon for individuals to post a bad picture or talk about a real struggle they’re dealing with in their personal lives. As a result, social media is a romanticized version of someone’s life, and it’s easy to put others on a pedestal after only seeing a shortened “highlight reel” of their life. Social media, in this context, can be highly unhealthy for your mind to consume.
Ways to moderate
As with food, moderation is best for most of us; fortunately, guarding your time and protecting your mental health doesn’t mean you need to quit social media cold turkey. But it’s a good idea for most people to limit their use.
Below are some ideas for creating healthy boundaries around your social media consumption.
Decrease your time online
Limiting your daily time on social media is a good place to start. To help you limit your use, you can:
- Turn your phone on “do not disturb” mode.
- Turn off notifications for social media apps.
- If your phone has a screen-limiting mode, use it. You can set the duration for how long you want a particular app to be on per day, and once you reach that limit, the app becomes inaccessible.
- Turn the phone from a color to a grayscale in phone settings. This reduces dopamine released in the brain, making using your phone less addictive for your brain.
- Don’t sleep with your phone right next to you.
- Ensure that you’re not on your phone for the first 30 minutes and the last 30 minutes of your day.
Set SMART goals
How much time you choose to spend on social media is wholly based on your preferences, goals, and commitments. For example, if you’re dedicated to being president of a club while maintaining all A’s, cutting down on social media could be a great way to stay on track, not procrastinate, and get more sleep. Ideally, the limitations and goals you set with your phone should be “SMART” -meaning your goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. For instance, setting the goal of “reducing my social media usage significantly” is too vague. When we have vague goals, we are less likely to reach them. A better, SMARTer goal might be “I will stop looking at social media at 7 pm every school night for two weeks. After two weeks, I will check in with myself to see how I feel, if I was more productive, and if I got more sleep.” This goal is super specific; you can measure it, you can attain it, it’s relevant to your life, and you’ve indicated the time frame you will work on the goal (2 weeks).
Filter what you consume
Filtering what you’re consuming on social media apps can mean monitoring who you follow and what shows up on your feed.
There are several excellent options to enjoy an app while filtering your consumption through the platform.
Filter while you scroll by:
- Hiding offensive comments in settings
- Hiding certain words or phrases in settings (triggers)
- Blocking/muting certain users and their content
- Reporting certain comments, poses, and/or accounts
It’s also good to remind yourself that everything you see is inaccurate as you view social media. It’s important to remember that there is often a HUGE difference between someone’s real life and their curated “perfect” internet life.
Getting extra support
Decreasing your social media use, setting boundaries with your use, or even doing a social media detox can undoubtedly be challenging and does not have to be faced alone. If you struggle with changing your social media use, you can contact friends and family for advice on coping. You can also seek help through a therapist or school counselor. It’s normal to need extra help.
The take home
Social media can be a great way to connect with people, rekindle old friendships, and keep tabs on politics and news. But social media apps can be addictive and negatively impact your mental health and relationship with yourself and others. That’s why it’s essential to put yourself before social media. For many of us, creating space and boundaries is a healthy way to spend time on these platforms. For others, social media might not be a thing we can engage in and stay healthy and meet our sleep, school, and other goals. And that’s ok.
To learn more about setting social media boundaries, check out the links below:
- Managing Yourself: What’s Your Personal Social Media Strategy?
- Screen Time vs. Lean Time Infographic
- Which countries spend the most time on social media?
- Social Media and Mental Health
Author: Summer Wildbill is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla based in Pendleton, OR. She is a rising high school senior who dreams of being a journalist.
Published: Aug. 4th, 2023