For teens who are glued to social media, this 4-step plan can help

Dr. Neha Chaudhary shares how families can shift to a social media strategy that supports teens' emotional health.

Dr. Neha Chaudhary, child and adolescent psychiatrist, is chief medical officer of BeMe Health and faculty at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

(CNN)The holiday season is right around the corner, and for many that means more time spent with family across generations. Before you demand that your children drop their smartphone to talk meaningfully about gratitude at the Thanksgiving dinner table, take a moment to consider what you're asking.

When it comes to generational divides, it's hard to find one bigger than technology use, especially social media. How to talk to teens about technology use (and reduce it) is one of the most common questions I get from parents in my child and adolescent psychiatry clinic.
Adults worry that technology overuse is taking a toll on their children's mental health. For teens, it's more complicated. Whether it's social media, gaming or online chat forums, the digital landscape has become fundamentally integrated into their everyday life.
    Faced with that conflict, I typically ask parents and caregivers not only how much their kids are using technology, but how they are using it and how that use is impacting their headspace. Once we know the answers to those questions, we collaborate to find solutions.
      Rather than try to fight the use and engage in a tug-of-war, families can focus ahead of the holiday season on how they use social media. Knowing that some social media use negatively impacts mental health, families can together can shift to a social media strategy that supports teens' social and emotional health.
      It's important that parents and caregivers spend some time in careful reflection in partnership with teens. (Parents, don't try to do this alone.) Here's my four-step framework to help navigate this new space together and make productive, healthy changes:

      Step 1: Help teens evaluate how they are using social media

        Talk about the quality of the content your children are consuming online. Is it generally positive, like inspirational quotes or pictures of cute babies? Or is it negative, like politically charged news or memes that make fun of certain groups? All content is not created equal, and without intentionally and critically evaluating which bucket the content falls in, it's harder to figure out what to consume more of versus less.
        Your teens' pattern of use is just as important. Do they typically find themselves on social media when they are feeling happy, down, bored or angry? Do they scroll through social media to distract themselves from uncomfortable feelings or to avoid doing homework that's been piling up into a mountain? What happens when they step away from their device?
        By asking teens to reflect on the link between real life and when they pick up their phone to open Instagram or TikTok, you might identify an underlying problem that needs more attention, like anxiety. Or you could help them identify better ways to cope with uncomfortable feelings, like calling a friend or listening to music.

        Step 2: Ask how social media use is serving them

        This is where it's time to ask your teens to be real with you about the impact of social media on their mental health. Ask them how they feel after scrolling on social media. Do they notice a difference in how they feel when they view one type of content, like puppy videos or body-positive posts, versus another, like heavily edited and unrealistic photos of influencers or content from someone in a negative headspace?