Sociologist Jean M. Twenge wrote this for The Atlantic a few years ago:
I’ve been researching generational differences for 25 years, starting when I was a 22-year-old doctoral student in psychology. Typically, the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so. Millennials, for instance, are a highly individualistic generation, but individualism had been increasing since the Baby Boomers turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. I had grown accustomed to line graphs of trends that looked like modest hills and valleys. Then I began studying [Generation Z born 1995-2012].¹
These cliffs and climbs associated with Generation Z and Millennials are uncommon. So, what’s responsible? No single factor can bear the full weight, but two seem to correlate more tightly than the others: the invention of the smartphone and the advent of social media. Individuals who spend more time on social media from ages 10 to 25 seem to be at a higher risk for depressive symptoms and suicide-related outcomes.
In 2017, Twenge and a colleague found that teens who spend the most time on electronic devices—seven-plus hours a day—were twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression versus people who used them one hour per day. That’s really bad news when you consider just two years later teens who used a screen seven hours a day had become the norm, not a drastic subset. (And that’s not including school work hours.)
An increasing body of evidence suggests that the time we spend on our smartphones is interfering with our sleep, relationships, memory, attention spans, creativity, productivity, and decision-making abilities. By chronically raising cortisol levels, our phones are threatening our mental health and shortening our lives. Spikes in this stress hormone also spikes blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar, enabling us to react to perceived threats. Essentially, our phones are keeping us at a low level of fight-or-flight readiness. Parents are handing tweens and teens screens to carry around in their pocket either in spite of the risk or because they do not know about it.
Here are six tips to keep your daughter’s viewing habits age-appropriate.
1. Know WHEN to let your child have access to the Internet.
By law, your daughter isn’t supposed to have unsupervised access to any social media before her thirteenth birthday .² (And that might be a good rule of thumb for the Internet in general.) This age limit, approved by The United States Congress, exists because research reveals that a child’s brain isn’t ready for everything they’ll encounter on the Internet without the help of a parent or guardian. But that doesn’t mean your daughter won’t feel pressure to be online. When I wrote Lies Girls Believe: And the Truth That Sets Them Free just a few years ago, I surveyed more than 1500 churchgoing tween girls to see how much pressure our girls are facing. I was sad to discover girls as young as seven and eight in our churches have smartphones or tablets with access to the Internet. Think twice before you override the recommended age restrictions.
2. When your child is online, set limits to all screen time.
With so many screens to choose from, it’s best to limit the number of hours in front of a screen. (This also gives your daughter the task of choosing how she’ll use her allotted time each day.) Taking into account that the average 8- to-12-year-old needs ten hours of sleep a night and should have one hour of exercise a day, most experts agree that a healthy limit for a tween is somewhere between one and two hours of total screen time each day. This includes all their entertainment and social time online. (It does not include educational hours.)
3. Find a comprehensive parental control tool to monitor all online activity.
Most children do not tell their parents when they are bullied, stumble onto porn, or feel uncomfortable with an online conversation. You need to know when those things are happening so you can lovingly intervene and even remove privileges if your child is making bad choices. This is part of the developmental process. As you train them to discern what is good and what is bad, you develop their ability to have a healthy online presence when they are older.
You’ll need to do some research because the options are vast with new developments every day. Here’s what some of my True Girl moms are currently using with success:
“Bark! It’s a dashboard that monitors everything including texts and emails. If my child goes on a questionable site or receives a text that has questionable content, I get a notification on my phone in real time. It’s not perfect, but it’s something.”
“We use Gabb phone. It’s a wireless device that looks like a smartphone and gives me peace-of-mind that I can call or text my daughter. But there’s no Internet, no social media, and no gaming. The connection to my child without the risks of a smart phone.”
“We use Apple screen time restrictions, which also has content restrictions. No social media or chat settings on games. After two hours it locks her out of everything except her Bible app. And I go through her phone every night. She understands why we do these things and that there’s no such thing as privacy when it comes to her phone!”
4. Turn off all screens during mealtimes.
Mealtimes together with parents have been proven to increase the success of children in both social and academic settings, which decreases at-risk behavior. Meals create a great time to unravel the day’s events and advise your kids. Protect the intimacy of conversation at mealtimes.
5. Categorize screen time as digital vegetables or digital candy.
Arlene Pellicane says digital vegetables include things like Facetime with Grandma, distance learning, or listening to a podcast. Digital candy includes things like YouTube or Netflix sitcoms. Just as it’s not good for your body to eat too much junk food, it’s not good for your brain to eat too much digital candy.
6. Set a good example by being physically active and by limiting your own screen time.
This matters! What we teach is only as impactful as how we act in front of those who get a front-row seat to watch us live out what we believe. I confess that I have a real problem limiting screen time. In 2019, I dramatically pushed reset on how I use my screens and social media, and I loved the less-anxious self I discovered. My family loved the gift of my presence. During that time, I wrote a social media philosophy for myself so I could intentionally control my screen use, rather than having it control me. I want to encourage you to take some time to write down your own policy. If we are not intentional about how we use our screens, they will use us! It’s a worthwhile investment of an hour or so that could save you dozens of hours of wasted time on social media.
And your daughter will learn more from what you do than what you say about social media.
Remember, values are better “caught” than “taught.”
This blog is an excerpt from Six Ways to Keep the “Little” in Your Girl by Dannah Gresh. You can get this newly revised edition for 25% off right now using the code SAVE25, or bundle it with Six Ways to Keep the "Good" in Your Boy and get 50% off the set, through July 31st.
Our True Girl theme verse:
"So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, 'If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'” John 8:31,32
Mom, the best way to teach your daughter to live like an authentic True Girl is to live like an authentic True Woman. And to do that, you have to get your life lined up with the Truth of the Bible. Listen to Dannah Gresh every weekday on Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth's Revive Our Hearts podcast. The program features biblical teaching, interviews that offer godly advice, and other opportunities to abide in God's Word.
1. Jean M. Twenge, Have Smarthphones Destroyed a Generation?” The Atlantic, September 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/.
2. Kristen Rogers, “US teens use screens more than seven hours a day on average—and that’s not including school work,” October 29, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/29/health/common-sense-kids-media-use-report-wellness/index.html.
3. Victor Strasburger, “Clueless: Why Do Pediatricians Underestimate the Media’s Influence on Children and Adolescents?” Pediatrics, vol. 117, no. 4, April 2006.
4. Paul Harper, “Child’s Play: How old do you have to be for Snapchat, Facebook, Instragram accounts? Social media age restrictions explained,” U.S. Sun, January 21, 2020, https://www.the-sun.com/lifestyle/tech-old/289567/how-old-do-you-have-to-be-for-snapchat-facebook-instagram-accounts-social-media-age-restrictions-explained/.
5. Arlene Pellicane, “When Is My Daughter Old Enough for Social Media?” TrueGirl (blog), https://mytruegirl.com/blog/when-is-my-daughter-old-enough-for-social-media/.
6. Matt Gore, “The other sex talk parents need to have with their kids,” Washington Times, July 29, 2021, https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2021/jul/29/the-other-sex-talk-parents-need-to-have-with-their/.
7. Marian Merritt, “10-Year-Old Tweens Are Sexting, Study Reports,” NortonLifeLock, April 21, 2009, https://community.norton.com/es/node/4363.
8. “TikTok Is Now the Most Used App by Teens & Pre-teens in the US,” PR Newswire, March 23, 2021, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/tiktok-is-now-the-most-used-app-by-teens--pre-teens-in-the-us-301253639.html.
9. Mind over Media video, Focus on the Family, 2000.