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When your child feels in control of how they respond to strong emotions, they are better able to be thoughtful, intentional, and responsible online.

We’ve talked about the six developmental tasks and changes during adolescence which are particularly relevant to the ability to engage responsibly with social media:

  • An increased ability to see things from the perspective of another
  • Becoming less egocentric
  • An increased ability to anticipate consequences
  • An increased ability to delay gratification
  • Engaging in self-reflection
  • An increased capacity for impulse control 

Let’s take a closer look at delaying gratification.

Delaying gratification is the ability to wait for the “reward” of a given behavior.  A significant factor in the ability to delay gratification is emotional regulation, or the ability to exert control over your emotional state.  This is a learned skill which is supported by the strength and number of neural connections in the prefrontal cortex, an area that is rapidly developing in tweens.

Why does emotional regulation matter for using social media?

When we exercise some control over our emotional state, we are more likely to be able to do things like pause before posting, reflect on how our words might impact others, and consider the consequences of our actions.  All of these contribute to being safer and more responsible when interacting online.

What are some of the cognitive strategies that can be helpful for regulating emotions? 

There are several, but we think two of the most useful when interacting online are distraction and labelingDistraction is finding something else to focus on, like reading a book. Labeling is when you name the emotion you are experiencing. 

Click here if you’d like to learn more about these and other strategies.

How can you help your child learn these cognitive strategies? 

Part of how you support any developing skill is by modeling behavior. For example, you can model the use of labeling and distraction when you are interacting online. The next time a text message triggers a strong emotional response within you, why not try naming the emotion out loud and letting your child know how you are going to try to regulate yourself. 

You might say something like: 

“I’m very frustrated by this text I just got.  I’m going to take a walk rather than try to respond right now.”  

Is your child already further along in the learning process? Catch them succeeding! Let them know when you notice them using distraction or labeling to regulate their emotions.   

For more tips, check out

Don’t just follow your kids online.  Lead them.