Question: What is the impact of limiting time spent on social media? There is, understandably, the idea that limiting social media is good in order to keep a child safe, however, is it possible that by restricting their use it could create a craving for more? Kind of like a "don't press the red button" kind of way?


Answer: Much of today’s current media coverage about social media (in 2023 and now into early 2024) is that it’s not good for your mental health. While this media narrative is not entirely accurate, it has made some parents feel guilty or fearful, triggering an instinctive need to intervene. As a result, many parents are discussing whether to limit social media use for their teenage children like you. You may have even tried to limit your own use. Changing your habits around social media is hard, especially when you are competing against features that encourage you to keep your eyes on the screen, like auto-play and recommended videos that match your interests. These tools are designed to keep you engaged online for longer and longer, and because they are connected to apps, games, or experiences that you enjoy, they can be especially hard to resist. We all differ in how reward-driven we are, so it’s normal that some people will be able to set easy boundaries around their screen use while others will be more likely to overindulge.  

It’s also important to recognize that much of the online world was designed without kids and teens like you in mind. We have started to see social media platforms begin to think about how to respond to users’ (or their parents’) concerns over how much time they are spending on apps by allowing users to set time limits, with some platforms limiting use for those under 18 to one hour per day. But what happens when we limit social media use? Do limits work? What about if parents are the ones setting the limits? 

Research on Time Limits 

There's not much research on whether time limits work, but some early evidence gives us hints. In one study, college students were put into one of three groups:  

  1. Control group – Could use social media as they normally do. 
  2. Limited use group – Could use social media for only 30 minutes a day. 
  3. Limited but active use group – Could use social media for only 30-minutes a day but had to do something active on social media every 3 minutes (like posting or commenting). 

Results showed that: 

  • The limited use group with a 30-minute time limit had less depression symptoms than the control group. However, students in the limited use group who described themselves as highly active on social media reported more loneliness, anxiety, and lower self-esteem. This suggests that for those who do not post or comment as often or use social media to browse - limiting their use might reduce feelings of sadness. However, setting a limit might be harmful for those who are naturally active on social media. 
  • Students who naturally were more passive on social media and were in the limited but active group also showed lower well-being. Forcing less-active people to use social media in more active ways also doesn't seem to help and may actually increase negative symptoms.  

Another set of experiments (not published yet) looked at setting limits on TikTok, Pinterest, and an online game. Over multiple experiments with adults, the results repeatedly showed that setting a limit didn't reduce time spent. In fact, setting a limit might even lead people use media for a longer period of time - unless very short/strict limits were enforced. Interestingly, even if those in the experiment were able to get paid to do something else instead, it didn't change this trend. Longer time limits made people use media more than those without any limits. This study finding means that apps that let you set your own time limits might encourage you to use them longer than you planned, especially if the limit is longer than you might naturally have used the platform.  

Research on Parenting 

Research shows that parental rules, like limiting time and content, can reduce your media use. But simply restricting social media use doesn't prevent problematic internet use, which is using social media impulsively or in risky ways. Discussing and watching media with your parents can have a bigger impact than just setting rules. Parents may be able teach you how to protect yourself from media risks like cyberbullying and troubling content. Families who approach social media in a way that supports your independence lower your risk for problematic use, depression, and anxiety. Teens who discuss social media with parents are also better able to approach or cope with cyberbullying. 

What You Can Do 

Adolescence is a time for you to build skills and confidence while managing your interests and time. Too many external restrictions on social media might limit opportunities to build these skills. A useful approach to limiting screen time is to make a plan together with your family. Ideally, this plan will discuss how time is spent on social media (content) and when and where social media is used (context).  

For content or what is viewed, ask yourself what type(s) of content you enjoy and focus on that. Some studies show that more active use, like creating content or talking with friends, leads to better experiences. 

Another part of social media time is the context, or when and where that time happens. Ask yourself: Is social media taking away from other activities, like being with friends or doing something important? Or is it a break, maybe after school before heading to soccer practice? Deciding when and where social media time happens is crucial. 

Lastly, include activities beyond screen time in the plan to avoid overusing social media. What do you enjoy doing? What do you want to spend your time getting better at? The goal is for you to feel confident managing your time, and managing social media time is part of that. 

Key Takeaways & Tips: 
  • Be easy on yourself
    • Acknowledge that managing social media is challenging and it takes time and practice. 
  • Shift focus to how and why you use social media
    • Instead of tracking time, think about when, where, how, and why you use social media. 
    • For instance, think about avoiding social media at bedtime, which has been shown to disrupt sleep. Instead build in time during the day for important activities on social media that can prevent you from using it at night. 
  • Be able to explain why and how you use social media:  
    • Discuss where, why, when, and how you use social media with your parents. They want to know why it is important to you. 
    • Share your interests on social media. Show your parents content you enjoy. It can be a sports page, a recipe, a song, or a funny video. 
  • Develop a plan together
    • Work with your caregivers to create a social media plan for the whole family. This will give you the opportunity to have more say in your social media use (and your parents!).  
  • It’s okay to ask for help
    • If social media is having a negative effect on your life, reach out to trusted adults for help. 
    • If you feel comfortable, talk to your parents about social media and what you're struggling with. 
    • Ask them to talk about how they manage their use or what they do when they run into a tricky situation. They can help you think critically about what to do and how to protect yourself and your well-being. 
Recommended Resources 


  • Beyens, I., Keijsers, L., & Coyne, S. M. (2022). Social media, parenting, and well-being. Current Opinion in Psychology, 47, 101350. 
  • Chen, L., & Shi, J. (2019). Reducing harm from media: A meta-analysis of parental mediation. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 96(1), 173-193. 
  • Collier, K. M., Coyne, S. M., Rasmussen, E. E., Hawkins, A. J., Padilla-Walker, L. M., Erickson, S. E., & Memmott-Elison, M. K. (2016). Does parental mediation of media influence child outcomes? A meta-analysis on media time, aggression, substance use, and sexual behavior. Developmental psychology, 52(5), 798. 
  • Ernala, S. K., Burke, M., Leavitt, A., & Ellison, N. B. (2022, April). Mindsets matter: How beliefs about Facebook moderate the association between time spent and well-being. In Proceedings of the 2022 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1-13). 
  • Hamilton, J. L., & Lee, W. (2021). Associations between social media, bedtime technology use rules, and daytime sleepiness among adolescents: cross-sectional findings from a nationally representative sample. JMIR mental health, 8(9), e26273. 
  • Hunt, M., All, K., Burns, B., & Li, K. (2021). Too much of a good thing: Who we follow, what we do, and how much time we spend on social media affects well-being. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 40(1), 46-68. DOI: 10.1521/jscp.2021.40.1.46 
  • Lukavská, K., Hrabec, O., Lukavský, J., Demetrovics, Z., & Király, O. (2022). The associations of adolescent problematic internet use with parenting: A meta-analysis. Addictive Behaviors, 107423. 
  • Silverman, Jackie and Srna, Shalena and Etkin, Jordan, Does Setting a Time Limit Affect Time Spent? (March 7, 2023). Available at SSRN: or 




Age: 10-17  

Topics: Limits, parental restriction, self-tracking, self-control 

Role: Youth/Teen 

Last Updated



American Academy of Pediatrics