For many parents, this week’s revelations from whistleblower Frances Haugen showing internal Facebook studies of Instagram’s harms to teens only heightened concerns about the popular photo-sharing app.
“The patterns that children set up in adolescence stay with them for the rest of their lives,” Haugen said in Senate testimony Tuesday.
“Kids who are bullied on Instagram, the bullying follows them home. He follows them to their rooms. The last thing they see before going to bed at night is someone who is cruel to them, ”Haugen said. “Children learn that their own friends, people they care about, are cruel to them. “
So what can you do to protect your children? Experts say open lines of communication, age limits and, if necessary, activity monitoring are some of the steps parents can take to help children navigate the dangers of social media while still empowering them. discuss with their peers on their own terms.
Is 17 the new 13?
Have you ever wondered why kids can turn 13 on Instagram and other social media apps? That’s because the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act came into effect in 2000 – even before today’s teens were born (and when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was himself than a teenager, for that matter).
The goal was to protect children’s online privacy by requiring websites and online services to disclose clear privacy policies and obtain parental consent before collecting personal information about their children, among other things. To comply, social media companies have generally banned children under the age of 13 from signing up for their services, although it has been widely documented that children register anyway, with or without their parents’ permission.
But times have changed and online privacy is no longer the only concern of children online. There’s bullying, harassment, and as Facebook’s own research has shown, the risk of developing eating disorders, suicidal thoughts or worse.
In his testimony, Haugen suggested raising the age limit to 16 or even 18. Some parents, educators, and tech experts have been pressured to wait to give kids phones – and access to social media – until they’re older, like the “Wait Until Grade 8” which requires parents to sign a pledge not to give their children a smartphone until grade 8. But neither social media companies nor the government have done anything concrete to raise the age limit.
“There isn’t necessarily a magic age,” said Christine Elgersma, social media expert at the nonprofit Common Sense Media. But, she added, “13 is probably not the best age for kids to access social media.”
It’s still complicated. There is no reliable way to verify a person’s age when signing up for online apps and services. And apps popular with teens today were first created for adults. Companies have added guarantees over the years, Elgersma noted, but these are piecemeal changes, not fundamental service redesigns.
“Developers need to start building apps with kids in mind,” she said. And no, she’s not talking about Instagram Kids, the Facebook project took a hiatus last week amid widespread backlash. “We can’t trust a business that didn’t start with the best interests of children in mind,” she said.
Facebook says it has added a host of guarantees and features to improve the well-being of teens on Instagram over the years, such as mental health support for people looking for common hashtags associated with disorders of the brain. diet or self-harm. The company also tested hiding “Like” accounts in a program called “which means when you post something, if you’re a youngster, you don’t have to worry about the number of people who will like your post and if people will see it, ”said Monika Bickert, head of global policy management at Facebook.
But Facebook’s own researchers found that hiding like accounts didn’t help teens feel better.
Speak, speak speak
Start early, sooner than you think. Elgersma suggests that parents browse their own social media feeds with their children before they are old enough to be online and have open discussions about what they are seeing. How would your child handle a situation where a friend of a friend asks them to send a photo? Or if they see an article that makes them so angry that they just want to share it right away?
For older children, approach them with curiosity and interest.
“If teens give you the growls or one-word answers, sometimes ask what their friends are doing, or just don’t ask direct questions like ‘what are you doing on Instagram?’ but ‘hey, I heard this influencer is really popular,’ ”she suggested. “And even if your child rolled his eyes, it could be a window.”
Don’t say things like “turn it off” when your child has been scrolling for a long time, says Jean Rogers, director of Fairplay, a nonprofit that advocates for children to spend less time on digital devices.
“It’s not respectful,” Rogers said. “It does not respect the fact that they have a whole life and a whole world in this device.”
Instead, Rogers suggests asking them questions about what they’re doing on their phone and seeing what your kid is willing to share.
Children are also likely to respond to parents and educators “pulling the curtains” on social media and the sometimes insidious tools businesses use to keep people online and engaged, Elgersma said. Watch a documentary like “The Social Dilemma” which explores the algorithms, dark patterns and feedback cycles of social media dopamine. Or find out with them how Facebook and TikTok make money.
“Kids love to know about these things, and it will give them a sense of power,” she said.
Vicky Lacksonen, a 53-year-old mother in Mount Vernon, Ohio, says she’s just trying to talk to her son. She knows the access codes to her son’s phone and sometimes pushes him to put his phone down if it has been on it for a while. But as long as her 14-year-old keeps his notes and does things he enjoys, like soccer, she mostly leaves him privacy on his smartphone and apps like Instagram.
“You don’t really know what they’re looking at,” Lacksonen said. “Just having these conversations and talking to them is an important part… and don’t be afraid to ask questions. “
Rogers says most parents are successful in picking up their kids’ phones at night to limit scrolling. Sometimes kids can try to get the phone back, but that’s a strategy that tends to work because kids need a break from the screen.
“They need an excuse with their peers not to be on the phone at night,” Rogers said. “They can blame their parents.”
Parents may need their own limits on phone use. Rogers said it helps to explain what you do when you have a phone in hand with your child so that they understand that you are not browsing sites like Instagram aimlessly. Let your child know that you are checking their work emails, looking for a dinner recipe, or paying a bill so they know you’re not there just for fun. Then tell them when you plan to hang up the phone.
You can’t do it alone
Parents should also understand that this is not a fair fight. Social media apps like Instagram are designed to be addictive, says Roxana Marachi, an education professor at San Jose State University who studies data damage. Without new laws that regulate how tech companies use our data and algorithms to nudge users toward harmful content, there’s not much parents can do, Marachi said.
“Businesses aren’t interested in the well-being of children, they are interested in the eyes on the screen and maximizing the number of clicks. said Marachi. “Period.”