18 for 18 Challenge: Delaying Social Media Use

By Lindsey Johnson
Woman in red sweater and blue jeans sitting on phone in yellow chair

One Minnesota teen is $1,800 richer thanks to completing the 18 for 18 Challenge his mother created for him.

When Sivert Klefsass was just 12 years old, his mother Lorna issued him a challenge: stay off social media until he was 18 years old and she would pay him $1,800. At the age of 12, that seemed like an extraordinary amount of money and he accepted the challenge. While there were times where it was difficult to be excluded from social media outlets, Klefsass says his friends kept him in the loop of what was happening in the cyber world.

But how did delayed social media use affect him?

How did this start?

According to KARE 11 News in Minneapolis, Lorna heard of other mothers challenging their children to stay away from social media until they were 16 years old. She decided to extend it another two years until her son hit legal adulthood. Lorna had seen the damaging effects that social media can have on teens when her daughter struggled with social media, saying that the constant draw was impacting her daughter’s mood and friendships. Seeing an opportunity to help her son avoid the same pitfalls, she offered him a deal that was up to him to accept.

The impact of social media on teens

Like it or not, social media has become a major part of teen culture. It can be an opportunity for kids to connect outside of school, which was particularly helpful when students were sent home during the pandemic. Social media can also be a way to organize events and keep in touch with team members, clubs and other organizations. But social media is not without its faults. Behind the shield of a screen, some people feel more emboldened to make hurtful comments that they would never say directly to someone’s face. In written form, many comments can be taken out of context and interpreted incorrectly.

A research study conducted by Pew Research reports that 45% of teenagers report they are online “almost constantly.” This hyperconnectedness does not provide teens with the time to be fully alone with their inner thoughts and feelings but instead, constantly at the watchful eye of others. They react immediately and this instant feedback also makes it obvious when they are being ignored by others. It also provides ample opportunity for teens to cyberbully or participate in activities that they would not want their parents to know about. The Cyberbullying Research Center reports that 23.2% of study participants have been cyberbullied in the past 30 days. A systematic review of studies published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that cyberbullying victims under the age of 25 are twice as likely to self- harm or demonstrate suicidal behaviors.

A multi-institutional study at the University of Texas-Austin and the University of Rochester found that teens who received fewer “likes” on their posts reported stronger feelings of rejection and negative feelings about themselves, tying their feelings of self-worth to the feedback they received online. Dr. Chris Beevers, coauthor of the study and director of the Institute for Mental Health Research at the University of Texas, states that feelings of low self- worth can lead to an increased risk of depression.

Giving teens a choice

The genius in Lorna Klefsass’ challenge is that she ultimately left the decision to her son. She provided him an opportunity to make a choice between social media and a cash reward. While it presented occasional challenges, Sivert says he would do it again as he felt the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Even though his social media use was delayed, the allure of social media is still there – one of the first things Sivert did on his 18th birthday was set up an Instagram account.

Tips for trying this at home:

Choose a timeline

of your comfort level (months, years, until a certain age)

Choose a relevant reward

(something that will motivate your child, magnitude of prize should be relevant to the amount of time invested)

Frame it as a challenge

Adds an element of fun to delaying social media use!

Propose options

to your child as a choice – ultimately it is up to them to stick with it. When presented as a choice instead of a parental mandate, teens feel empowered to be autonomous.

Stick to your promise

If your child reaches their milestone, award them as promised.

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