Social media fosters addiction, comparison, and depression; so why do we often find ourselves surrounded by our friends and family, only to realize that everyone is checking their social media rather than spending time with the people who are in the same room as them? While there are benefits to social media, including staying in touch with family and friends who live far away, there are ways to reap these benefits without hurting yourself and straining your relationships in the process. A study by Mediakix concluded that the average person spends more than five years of their life on social media; how much power do you want to give social media in your life and your family’s lives? We’ve identified some of the best ways to make a positive change in your home, in your mind, and on social media in general to make this year your best year yet.

In The Home

The home should be a place of refuge, a place to make memories and deepen relationships; if everyone is distracted by their phones, it is difficult to cultivate a safe haven and to be fully present for memories and relationships. Luckily, there are easy ways to fix this - specifically, designating family time without phones. For some, this may mean organizing more game nights, outdoor activities, or family events. For others, this may be a ‘no phones at the dinner table’ rule or deciding to completely ‘unplug’ on the weekends. Worried about how to make this dream a reality? Check out applications such as Offtime, which allows users to block calls, texts, and notifications for designated periods of time. While it might be difficult at first to tear yourself or your family members away from their phones, it will eventually become second nature to prioritize that precious family time over whatever is happening in other peoples’ lives on social media.

Collin Kartchner, founder of the #SaveTheKids social media campaign, explains that “kids today need to be seen, heard, and loved more than ever before… if they don’t get it from mom or dad, they’re going to find it somewhere else.” That somewhere else is social media, where they can receive validation within seconds from views, likes, and comments; however, this validation is typically not genuine and it won’t last. Kids need to be seen, heard, and loved by their parents more than social media.

In order to set limitations for social media, it is important to first understand what social media is and what it does to the user’s mind. Each like, follow, view, and comment on social media provides a spike of dopamine, a neurochemical that increases your general level of arousal. When a parent takes their child’s phone away, they are taking away the dopamine that has become so commonplace to all social media users; it is crucial to replace time on social media with something else such as sports or other activities. This will ensure that the child doesn’t feel a sudden void when their social media security blanket is taken away; it will also help them discover other healthier options to have that same dopamine experience.

If you’re a parent, make sure you set the same rules for yourself that you set for your children. Just as children need time away from their phones, parents need to set down their phones to improve their own mental and emotional health and to create more time to pay attention to their children. You could make it a family goal, and maybe even add in an incentive such as ‘whoever uses social media the least this week gets to pick dinner on Sunday.’ If parents are distracted by their phones, their children will follow their example; by joining your children and saying, ‘let’s cut back on Instagram together,’ your child will be able to see you putting your phone down and learn how to do the same.

Living with roommates? These years won’t last forever so you need to remember every moment- not by taking seemingly perfect pictures, but by actually making memories. Make a pact with your roommates to stay off social media when you’re all hanging out or just turn off notifications so you can be fully present in each moment rather than being constantly reminded of what is going on with social media.

In Your Mind

Social media can be a mental escape from life with its mindless scrolling - but it can also be a mental trap. One way to free your mind from the negative effects of social media is to stop comparing yourself to others and instead, only compare yourself to the best version of your own self. The only comparison that really matters is comparing yourself from yesterday to today, and from today to tomorrow; constantly improve yourself and your life, regardless of other people, especially social media ‘influencers’.

Dealing with emotions correctly is a powerful tool that many people, adults and children alike, struggle to obtain. Unfortunately, many people turn to social media when they are feeling sad, overwhelmed, stressed, or need to vent; next time, call a friend or write in a journal. This will help you process your emotions in a healthy way, while developing a stronger relationship with a friend or gaining a better understanding of your own emotional needs. You will become a stronger, more capable person by being able to process and deal with your emotions without needing to turn to social media for help.

When you look around in a waiting room or at the subway stop, what do you see? Most people are on their phones. It has become the norm for people to turn to social media when they have some free time; to better use that time, do meditation exercises or allow your mind to do some imaginative thinking instead of zoning out while scrolling through your newsfeed. Meditation exercises will help keep your stress levels down while imaginative thinking will allow you to free your mind and push your mental capacity; both will foster better mental health than a newsfeed will.

On Social Media

Perhaps the most obvious new habit to observe is this: spend less time on social media. New screen time tracker applications, such as Moment, allow the user to monitor how much time is spent in various types of activity on the phone, as well as how much time is spent within each individual application. You can set daily limits and goals, depending on how much time you want to spend on your phone, as well as limits and goals on a family scale. In addition to daily limits, designate a few days here and there to go without social media; the time away will help you reevaluate your life, without comparing it to other peoples’ lives, while giving you more time to concentrate on things that are more important.

Another way to make a change is to be more authentic on social media. This is not to say that you have to post pictures of your hardest days, but rather consider what is really going on when you are posting. So many posts and captions relay the message that this beautiful picture, trip, or moment just happened without planning anything; it’s better to show gratitude for a trip you went on, to laugh about a family picture that took 100 tries before everyone was smiling, or to express positivity amidst life’s difficulties. We are all human and we all have trials - you don’t need to try to convince yourself or anyone else that your life is perfect, as it only hurts others in the process.

It sounds crazy that ‘social media influencer’ is a job title, but many of us follow these ‘influencers’ and their accounts that spotlight travel, motherhood, fitness, etc. Because these influencers are paid to constantly create a seemingly perfect life so that their followers will want to buy the products they sell or sponsor, oftentimes their entire feeds look flawless, which can make the average person feel bad about themselves. While some influencers do a good job of staying authentic and positive, others create unrealistic expectations for ourselves and those around us. Review the people you follow, and choose to unfollow any accounts that make you feel bad about yourself or don’t bring you joy; likewise, follow accounts that inspire you and make you feel good, like @tanksgoodnews, an account completely dedicated to spotlighting the good news stories of the world. With less time on social media, and more authenticity and positivity in your newsfeed, you’ll feel better about yourself and see the world differently.

Social media was originally created to link people together; unfortunately, it has had the opposite affect for many people. However, if we learn to use it correctly, it can be a positive force in our lives and in the world.