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Girls and Social Media: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers

How to support preteen and teen girls with their mental health and well-being.

Parent with arm around teen girl looking together at phone girl is holding.

Social media plays a key role in our lives and relationships. So it's no wonder that kids start to feel the pull of social media as they get older. According to Common Sense Media's 2023 research report, "Teens and Mental Health: How Girls Really Feel About Social Media," social media is used by a majority of girls age 11 to 15 who were surveyed. On average, girls who use social platforms spend over two hours a day on them.

As parents and caregivers, you may be wondering how to best approach this topic with your daughters. Check out these tips to help your child balance the risks and rewards of social media.

Should girls use social media?

This is a big question for parents and caregivers. Regardless of gender, it really depends on the platform and how your kid wants to use it. First, make sure they're old enough to be on the apps they're interested in. Check Common Sense Media's age ratings for popular apps like YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat. Your child's sense of maturity and responsibility are also major factors. Here are some other questions to think about:

  • Does your child know the basic rules about behaving safely online?

  • What kinds of benefits would they get from that particular app?

  • Can they stick to limits for when, where, and how long they use social media?

When your child is starting out with social media, it's important that they use it with adult guidance. Try to walk through apps and learn about their features with your kid. Give them examples of what's safe to do on social media and what's not OK. Also, teach them about the ways social media can affect them—with some help from the following sections.

What are the negative effects of social media on girls?

Studies show that girls face some unique challenges on social media.

  • Negative experiences like cyberbullying can be common. And some kids are more likely to be bullied online than others, including older teen girls.

  • Another risk of social media is unwanted contact from strangers. Around half of teen girls report experiencing it on TikTok and Snapchat.

  • Kids also report exposure to racism and hate speech on social media. Nearly half of girls of color surveyed said they encounter it at least monthly on Instagram and TikTok.

  • And then there's the risk of social pressure. It's likely that girls regularly compare themselves to others on social media. This could make them feel worse about their lives. Because social media feeds tend to be curated, girls may feel the need to present the best version of themselves. Lastly, they could feel pressure to constantly be available to friends and followers online.

Are there any positive effects of social media on girls?

Yes! It's not all bad.

  • Girls often use social media to connect with others and maintain friendships. Teens feel it gives them space for creativity and community. They also say they turn to social media for entertainment, learning, and exploring their interests.

  • Girls of color can come across positive and identity-affirming posts, which are important for their identity development. For LGBTQ+ kids, using social media can help connect them with peers who share their interests and identities.

This means that social media can be a place for girls to develop their identities. They can even find meaningful support online. Adults can support their growth by helping them discover positive content that feeds their interests. While encouraging your daughters to balance their social media use, guide them toward healthy online experiences.

Does social media affect girls' mental health?

Girls are likely to have both positive and negative experiences on social media. Those who are already dealing with mental health challenges could be at higher risk for negative experiences online. Different app features, like public accounts and appearance filters, can also affect girls. It's possible that these options could influence them to compare themselves to others. Features like location sharing and endless scrolling can also make them feel like they're missing out.

Kids can also find mental health resources on social media. This can be crucial for girls of color and LGBTQ+ youth. Parents and caregivers can encourage them to find supportive communities, both online and offline. Plus, make sure your daughter carves out time for activities that support her overall development. That includes healthy activities away from tech, like social interactions, hobbies, and sleep.

How can adults support girls' well-being if they use social media?

Consider these tips and strategies when talking with your kids about their social media use:

  • Have regular conversations with your child about their mental health and well-being. Talk about the platforms they're on, app features, and how they make your kid feel. Try not to be judgmental about their emotions and experiences.

  • Make sure they know to go to a trusted adult if they feel uncomfortable about something online.

  • Try to validate the mixed feelings your child might have about using social media. It's normal!

  • Help them set boundaries and limits on tech. Make sure using social media doesn't get in the way of adequate sleep. Use a family tech planner to guide them in being mindful of how they spend their time online.

  • Get to know the apps your kids like and explore their favorite accounts and features together.

How can adults help girls of color have positive experiences on social media?

Since kids could come across harmful content, like racist posts or images, and videos of violence against people of color, it's important for kids to be careful. Parents and caregivers should check in with kids regularly about what they're encountering online. Seeing rude or disturbing things online about their own race or ethnicity can affect kids of color. Make sure your child knows to reach out to trusted adults for help if they come across inappropriate or hateful posts. Give them space to share how the experience affected them. Then, figure out together how you can take action. This includes how to block accounts and report harmful posts on the apps they use.

On the plus side, girls of color can also find resources and support on social media. They're likely to come across uplifting language and content about their race and ethnicity. This content can help validate them and let them connect with supportive communities online. This is good news for parents and caregivers! You can help your daughter find influencers and accounts that reflect their interests. Steer them toward content that allows them to develop their racial and ethnic identities.

Dawn Bounds, PhD, PMHNP-BC, contributed to this article.

Raisa Masood

Raisa is passionate about helping kids thrive, which has led to her making a career out of reading and watching children's media. As a content editor at Common Sense, she works on tips and advice for families on managing entertainment and tech at home. She has previously worked in children's publishing and at nonprofit organizations. Raisa holds a bachelor's degree in Global Business and Marketing from Fordham University. She loves to read, travel, and watch football (aka soccer). You can find her exploring New York City during her free time, and trying to hunt down the best dumplings in the city (she has a never-ending list).