Pre-teen wellbeing and social media use: Practice tips

Michele Hervatin, Parenting Research Centre, Australia, November 2023

Resource Summary

This article offers practice tips for professionals working with pre-teens and/or their parents, where ‘parent’ refers to anyone in a parenting role, such as parents, carers, grandparents, or extended family.

More information about these practice tips can be found in the practice paper Pre-teen social media use and the impact on mental health and wellbeing by Naomi Deneve, The Parenting Research Centre.

The pre-teen years (i.e. ages 9–12 years) are a developmental period between early childhood and adolescence. During this time, significant and rapid changes occur in a child’s physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and identity development (Evans-Whipp et al., 2017). At this age, children are also experiencing numerous changes in the world around them (Mascia et al., 2023) and increasing their use of technology, including social media (Waugh & Close, 2011; Wade et al., 2022).

Read more about what’s happening for children in the pre-teen years in our Practice guide: Supporting parents of pre-teen children with mild-moderate anxiety, as well as the benefits and challenges of social media use for pre-teen wellbeing.

While children become more independent in the pre-teen years, they are still within the ‘sphere of influence’ of their parents. This means that these years offer a valuable ‘window of opportunity’ for parents to start conversations about social media and wellbeing with their child, to support them to learn knowledge and skills for navigating social media in a safe, healthy way.

Practitioners can use these practice tips to help parents and families support pre-teen wellbeing in the context of social media:

Start conversations about social media – even if it’s not a presenting concern.

Social media use won’t always be ‘on the radar’ of families as a concern per se, particularly as other concerns may eclipse those related to social media. But given social media is part of the daily lives of pre-teens, it is important to explore its use in the setting of other presenting issues and how it is (or isn’t) related. Asking curious, open questions can be helpful, such as: ‘Have you noticed any change in Adam’s mood when they spend more time on social media?’.

Encourage and support parents to start conversations with their pre-teens about social media as a form of prevention.

Conversations should begin early in the pre-teen years, especially to reduce the likelihood of future concerns around social media. These conversations are also a way to proactively prepare children before they are completely independent on social media (Jeffery, 2023). Practitioners can help parents to plan how they will raise, approach and discuss social media with their children.

Respond to parental concerns about social media use from a position of curiosity, opportunity and support.

Talk with parents to reach a shared understanding of their concerns. For example, you might ask open questions like: ‘Why is this a concern for you right now?’. If appropriate, try re-framing parents’ concerns as opportunities, such as to approach social media use as a whole family (e.g. via a ‘family agreement’); help achieve a healthy balance with non-online activities; or build their child’s skills in staying safe online.

Help parents build skills in their child that will help keep them happy and safe on social media.

Talk with the parent and/or family to reach a shared understanding of what information or skills are important for the pre-teen to learn to protect their wellbeing and safety. Remember: needs will vary depending on factors like age and developmental stage, platforms used, and existing strengths.

Examples of skills that might be built include maintaining privacy settings, understanding protective functions (e.g. reporting and ‘blocking’ users), and detecting ‘fake’ accounts/content.

Practitioners can share ideas about how parents might build these skills, such as: modelling healthy social media behaviours/skills; child-parent joint learning activities; and harnessing evidence-based resources.

Provide a safe and trusting space when pre-teens themselves raise social media related concerns.

Positively reinforce the pre-teen for raising the topic with you – and talk further together to understand why it’s a concern and the impact it’s having on their mental health and day-to-day life. This can be a valuable opportunity to partner with the child to identify what they need to feel safe, protected and happy on social media. If appropriate, discuss how to share this concern with their parent(s).

Help families to achieve a healthy balance for pre-teens between social media and other activities/interests/hobbies.

Every family will have their own views about what a healthy balance looks like, but it’s still important to find out if joint exploration of ideas/strategies to achieve this balance might be helpful (Common Sense Media, 2022). Examples of ideas or strategies include:

  • Find out what the pre-teen enjoys doing away from screens and how you could help to increase opportunities for them to do these things.
  • Explore the pre-teen’s online interests and help them to find similar things offline.
  • If the pre-teen is reluctant to take part in offline activities, be curious about why this is and work with them to support their engagement and participation.

Support parents to use social media as an opportunity to foster emotional development.

Social media can foster a diversity of emotions, from enjoyment, happiness and connection to worry, sadness and anger. This offers a valuable opportunity for parents to use social media to help their pre-teen identify and regulate their emotions in a healthy and safe way. Strategies that practitioners might share with parents to support pre-teen emotional development online include:

  • Have regular ‘check in’ conversations with pre-teens about social media use, being curious about how they are feeling (or thinking) about what they are hearing, seeing, doing or ‘talking about’ online. This includes discussing positive emotions – not just negative ones.
  • Help pre-teens identify when their feelings are changing in relation to online engagements/interactions – and to come up with healthy ways they can cope with these emotions or circumstances (e.g. showing a trusted adult what impacted them, blocking or reporting content/accounts).

Help families understand the benefits social media may be providing.

When having conversations with families about social media, it’s also important to explore the unique benefits that social media may be offering their pre-teen. This can help optimise the child’s wellbeing by ensuring any protective or coping functions are considered. It can also help guide discussions about achieving a healthy balance with other activities/interests.



The pre-teen years offer a valuable ‘window of opportunity’ for parents to start having conversations as a family about social media use and wellbeing. Practitioners can play a valuable role in this process by encouraging and supporting these collaborative and trusting conversations, thus enabling pre-teens to navigate social media in a safe, healthy way.



Deneve, N. (2023). Social media use in pre-teens and the impact on mental health and wellbeing. Adelaide, South Australia: Emerging Minds and the Parenting Research Centre.

Evans-Whipp, T., Mundy, L., Canterford, L. & Patton, G. (2017). Student wellbeing, engagement and learning across the middle years. Australian Government Department of Education and Training.

Jeffery, C. (2023, Feb 10). Is 13 too young to have a TikTok or Instagram account? The Conversation.

Mascia, M. L., Langiu, G., Bonfiglio, N.S., Penna, M.P. & Cataudella, S. (2023). Challenges of preadolescence in the school context: A systematic review of protective/risk factors and intervention programmes. Education Sciences, 13(2), 130. doi: 10.3390/educsci13020130

Wade, C., Almendingen, A. & Robinson, E. (2022). How parenting pre-teens compares to other child stages: Identifying opportunities to enhance adolescent mental health and wellbeing. Children & Society, 36, 1296–1318. doi: 10.1111/chso.12577

Waugh, J. & Close, R. (2011). Enhancing pre-teen wellbeing. Good Policy, 7(2), 10-12.

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