Apprehensive About Your Teen on Social Media? Right here’s The right way to Assist.
The Wall Street Journal revealed last week that Instagram researchers had spent years studying how its photo-sharing app affects young users and found that it can be harmful to teenage girls in particular, news parents and lawmakers alike alarmed.
According to the study, which was not made public, Instagram makes body image problems worse for one in three teenage girls. And among teenagers who reported suicidal thoughts, “13 percent of British and 6 percent of American users attributed suicide to Instagram,” the Journal reported.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, then issued a statement saying, in part, that “research into the effects of social media on people is still relatively emerging and developing” and that “no single study will be conclusive”. Instagram noted in a statement that social media can have a “rocking effect,” where the same person could have a negative one day and a positive one the next.
For some parents, the results of the study weren’t necessarily surprising given the platform’s preponderance of unreachable, altered images, but it did raise an important question: what can we do to help our children have healthier relationships on social media?
Several experts offered advice to parents of teenagers on how to navigate social media, whether their children are already online or about to receive their first phone or tablet.
Don’t go from zero to 100.
Instead of giving your child a smartphone and letting them download multiple social media apps, start texting your child with a best friend or cousin on a shared family device, suggested Devorah Heitner, author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in their digital world. “
Then, consider the best age for your child to start using social media, taking into account their personality, impulsiveness, and level of maturity. Allow them to add a social app when they’re ready, said Dr. Heitner, instead of going “from zero to 100”.
For example, if your daughter has body image issues, an app like Instagram may not be for her, said Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and author of iGen, a book about teenagers and youngsters Adults and their relationship to technology.
Your child may want to use an app like Snapchat because all of their friends are accessing it even though the company’s rules say they’re too young. And when that happens, you can reach out to other parents to see if there is an alternative way of communicating for the children that will allow you to stay true to your own values, said Dr. Heitner.
Dr. Twenge, a mother of three, has this blanket rule: “Children under the age of 12 shouldn’t be on social media,” she said. “The answer is no and the law is behind you.”
The law she refers to is called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which prohibits companies from collecting information online from children under the age of 13 – and hence social media platforms say children under the age of 13 cannot create their own account . But children under the age of 12 can easily bypass age restrictions on social media platforms by lying about their year of birth, said Linda Charmaraman, the director of the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab at Wellesley College.
In 2019, over 90 percent of the 773 middle school students who participated in the first wave of a longitudinal study by Dr. Charmaraman’s laboratory asked to have their own smartphone. Almost three quarters of these kids had already started using Instagram or Snapchat, and more than 40 percent were 10 or younger when they first joined.
Facebook, which is developing an Instagram app for children under the age of 13, says the new app will keep kids away from its main platform while addressing security and privacy concerns. But lawmakers, prosecutors, and children’s and consumer associations are deeply concerned.
Set time limits.
It’s not that a child at 13 is suddenly ready to solve all the problems that can accompany a social media account. After all, some adults still struggle with it.
Instead of constantly monitoring your child’s online interactions, think about the least invasive ways to set time limits and establish social media etiquette, and try to come across as supportive and helpful rather than someone acting as a perceived fear, shock or punishment, Dr. Heitner suggested.
If you decide your kids are ready to have their own device, don’t give them 24/7 access, the experts said.
Remove phones, tablets, or other electronic devices from your child’s bedroom at night. And if your teen uses their phone as an alarm clock, buy an alarm clock that is not connected to the internet, said Dr. Twenge.
Pick a platform and a time period, she added. For example, you could say that your child can use Instagram for 30 minutes a day. You can set this limit on your phone – on Apple, look for Family Sharing settings, and on Android, you can use an app called Family Link. When the time limit expires, the app will no longer be available on your child’s phone. To prevent unwanted downloads, Apple phones also have a Ask to Buy setting that sends a request to parents when kids want to buy or download a new item.
If you have a tech-savvy kid who might try to override settings like this, you may have to physically remove the device after the deadline, Dr. Heitner.
You can also consider getting your child a Gabb phone that won’t allow them to surf the web or apps, or Pinwheel, a smartphone with several built-in parental controls, including the ability to monitor your child’s communications.
A 2019 report by Common Sense Media found that most tweens and teens with a phone or tablet don’t use apps or tools to track their device time. However, the experts said that this is something that everyone, including parents, can benefit from.
If you’d prefer not to electronically monitor social media usage, you can simply ask your child to hand over their phone while they focus on homework or other activity, said Dr. Twenge.
It is important for children (and adults) to understand that the more we pay attention to our phones, the less energy we invest in the rest of our lives and, as a result, “the rest of our lives actually become less interesting”. said Anna Lembke, director of the Stanford Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic at Stanford University and author of Dopamine Nation.
At the dinner table and elsewhere, family members “need to collectively focus our attention on each other,” she said. “We have to do that to keep these connections.” Be honest about your own efforts to contain media use. If necessary, take digital breaks and encourage your children to opt out as well.
“Social media platforms are supposed to be addicting,” said Dr. Twenge. “It’s not just an individual problem, it’s a group problem.”
Help your teen understand and curate their feed.
A study published in 2016 found that less than half of the parents surveyed regularly discussed social media content with their tween and teenage children.
But the experts said it would be helpful to talk to your teen about who they are following and how they are feeling through these accounts.
Dr. Heitner cautioned teenagers should be extra careful with diet or exercise sites as they could “clog your feed” and potentially encourage unhealthy thoughts or behaviors. Algorithms provide content related to who your kids are following, what they’re looking for, and how they surf online.
Laura Tierney, the founder and executive director of The Social Institute, an organization that teaches students across the country how to positively navigate social media, advises teenagers to read up on their social media settings to find out why certain ads appear in their feeds.
First call up the settings of the Instagram app, then select “Security” and then “Access data”. Under “Advertising interests” you can see what Instagram you like based on your personal data. In Ms. Tierney’s experience, “most students have no idea that this even exists”.
She also suggested helping your child find real role models. “This is about surrounding yourself with positive influences,” she said. They could be their peers or celebrities like gymnast Simone Biles. If your child’s feed has accounts that are detrimental to their self-esteem, these are the ones your child will quickly stop following, Ms. Tierney said.
“As a parent, your job is to listen and ask open-ended questions,” she added. To get started, you can ask what your child’s top five accounts are compared to their bottom five accounts – and share your own as well – and talk about why you ranked them this way.
“You want to have accounts that will help you become the best version of yourself,” she said.