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How to Help Girls Have Healthier Social Media Experiences

7 ways parents and caregivers can support girls' mental health and digital well-being.

Mother and daughter looking at a cellphone together.

As a parent or caregiver, you may have read a lot of headlines about the risks that social media can pose for kids—particularly girls. Lawmakers are even considering whether younger teens should be on social media at all. The concerns are understandable, and it's important to know how you can help.

We wanted to hear from girls firsthand about how their online experiences make them feel. That's why Common Sense Media's new research report is built on interviews we conducted with girls who use the most popular social media platforms. The findings give parents and caregivers a glimpse into what teens are experiencing online, both positive and negative.

The tips below can help you support your girls' mental health, and help them have more positive and healthy experiences with social media. Know that you aren't alone—many families are struggling with this on top of the pressures of work and taking care of the household. Be sure to take care of yourself, too, so you can continue supporting your teen.

Have regular conversations about mental health.

One of the best ways to look after your daughter's mental health is to regularly ask them how they feel (and share how you feel). Depression and suicide are on the rise for girls. Girls who suffer from moderate to severe depression or who are struggling socially report having more frequent negative social experiences online than their peers. But creating a safe space for regular conversations about their lives on- and offline will build trust and give them an outlet to talk about their mental and emotional well-being.

What you can ask:

  • "How do you feel when you're using social media?" (Make sure to share your own experiences with social media too.)

  • "Do you ever deal with bullying, drama, or feeling left out when you're online?"

  • "What are some things you can do when you have those experiences?" (Blocking or reporting people, taking a break from the platform, talking with a friend or adult.)

Also, don't be afraid to talk with your teen about suicide. Keep an eye out for any warning signs, like feeling hopeless, withdrawing from favorite activities, or engaging in risky behaviors. Ask them if they've been thinking about suicide or hurting themselves. And seek out professional help right away if needed.

Create a circle of support online and offline.

Girls need to feel safe to explore their feelings—and to make connections about how those feelings affect their behavior. A circle of support can help make space for this kind of reflection and nurture girls' well-being.

What you can do:

  • Encourage girls to follow positive role models and seek out supportive communities online.

  • Help your teen prioritize in-person social connections through family and friend gatherings, organized sports and clubs, and religious and spiritual services and practices.

  • Help your teen identify the trusted adults in your community they can turn to for help (and make sure they have those adults' contact info).

Affirm your daughter's identity and body with positive messages.

It's easy for girls to find themselves comparing their real-life reflection in the mirror to what they see online. This can create feelings of body dissatisfaction and low self-esteem. To counter this, affirm your girl's identity and body with positive messages and have discussions about what's real and not real online.

What you can do:

  • Pay attention to what you say about your own body, and make sure you emphasize what bodies can do versus what they look like.

  • Point out how social media, movies, ads, and so forth can send the message that only certain body types, skin tones, or hair textures are beautiful.

  • Look for entertainment, online communities, and role models who embrace and uplift the beauty of true diversity.

  • Play with filters or AI apps together to expose how unrealistic some online images can be.

Encourage healthy sleep habits.

Girls report that overuse of social media and pressure to respond to their peers can interfere with sleep. To counter this, families can create healthy bedtime routines and set expectations around tech use before bed.

What you can do:

  • Establish a relaxing, device-free bedtime routine like a bath, diffusing lavender, playing white noise or other ambient music, or sharing a cup of caffeine-free tea before bed.

  • Agree on a set schedule for when devices are turned off in the evenings and keep them away from where kids sleep. You can set up a device charging area in a space that you all share.

  • Use parental controls to turn off access to apps or devices at certain times as needed.

Reframe how you talk about "stranger danger."

Interactions with strangers occur now more than ever. We meet partners and marry through dating apps, rent other people's homes through house sharing apps, and use car ride apps for transportation. Online, it's common to become "friends" with people we may never have met in person. Given these realities, telling your daughter not to interact with strangers isn't very realistic. However, girls report frequent unwanted contact by strangers on social media. Help them set healthy boundaries by walking through potential scenarios.

What you can do:

  • Remind teens that people aren't always who they say they are in online spaces.

  • Explain why it's risky to share personal information, like full name or location, with strangers online.

  • Make sure they know how to block someone on the app and use the platform's reporting tools.

  • If your daughter is only interacting with strangers online, try to understand if they're feeling lonely or left out in "real life." If so, help them find healthy ways to engage with their peers and feel included.

Talk about the -isms and promote healthy forms of resistance.

Among the girls we surveyed, about two-thirds of girls of color who use TikTok and Instagram reported encountering racist content on the platforms. And research shows these experiences can be damaging to teens' sense of self. In addition, hypermasculinity and violence against women are promoted on social media. Although it can be challenging to have open conversations about hateful online content, it creates a safe space for teens to talk about what they're seeing and how it makes them feel.

What you can do:

  • Ask, "Have you experienced racist or sexist comments on social media directed towards you, people like you, or someone you know?"

  • "What did they say?" and "How did it make you feel?"

  • "What do you think is the best response in situations like this?" (Report it, block it, call it out, fight it?)

  • Share stories of resilience and nurture your teen's sense of activism.

  • Explore how others use their voices to stand up against hateful messages online, and brainstorm ways you and your teen might take action.

Encourage social media's "healthier" side.

It's not all doom and gloom when it comes to girls and social media. Girls report a number of ways that social media affects them for the better, including affirmation of their identity, increased connection, and exposure to positive messages about mental health.

What you can do:

  • Get to know your teen's favorite social media platforms and enjoy them together.

  • Keep the positives in mind when you feel the urge to cut off your teen's social media time completely.

  • Seek out positive role models and fun or funny trends that you can enjoy together.

Dawn Bounds

Dawn Bounds, PhD, PMHNP-BC is an assistant professor in the Sue and Bill Gross School of Nursing and creator and director of the Centering Youth & Families for Empowerment and Resilience (CYFER) Lab at the University of California, Irvine. As a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner, her program of research is focused on digital mental health promotion and the prevention of risk behaviors in adversity-impacted youth.