Worried about your teenager on social media? Here is how to help.


The Wall Street Journal revealed last week that researchers at Instagram had studied for years how its photo-sharing app affected young users and found that it could be particularly harmful to teenage girls, news that has alarmed parents and legislators.

According to the research, which has not been made public, Instagram makes body image problems worse for one in three teenage girls. And among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, “13% of UK users and 6% of US users attributed their desire to kill themselves to Instagram,” the Journal reported.

Facebook, owner of Instagram, issued a statement in response, claiming in part that “research into the impact of social media on people is still relatively nascent and evolving” and that “no studies will be conclusive.” Instagram noted in a statement that social media can have a “rocking” effect, where the same person can have a negative one day and a positive the next.

For some parents, the study’s results weren’t necessarily surprising given the preponderance of the inaccessible modified image platform, but it did raise an important question: what can we do to help our children have a life. healthier relationship with social media?

Several experts have offered advice to parents of teenagers on social media browsing, whether their kids are already online or about to receive their first phone or tablet.

Rather than gifting your kid a smartphone and letting them download multiple social media apps, consider letting your kid text with a best friend or cousin on a shared family device to begin with, suggested Devorah Heitner, the author of “Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World.”

Next, think about the most appropriate age for your child to start using social media, taking into account their personality, impulsiveness, and maturity level. Allow them to add a social app when they’re ready, Dr Heitner said, rather than going “zero to 100”.

If your daughter has body image issues, for example, maybe an app like Instagram isn’t right for her, said Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and author. from “iGen”, a book about adolescents. and young adults and their relationship to technology.

Your child may want to use an app like Snapchat because all of their friends are there, even if company rules say they’re too young. And if that happens, you can reach out to other parents to see if there is another way for children to communicate that allows you to stay true to your own values, Dr Heitner said.

Dr Twenge, a mother of three, has this general rule of thumb: “Children 12 and under 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 data online from children under the age of 13 – and as a result, social media platforms say that children of under 13 cannot create their own account. But children 12 and under can easily escape age restrictions on social media platforms by lying about their year of birth, said Linda Charmaraman, director of the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab at Wellesley College.

In 2019, more than 90% of the 773 middle school students surveyed in the first wave of a longitudinal study conducted by Dr. Charmaraman’s lab said they had their own smartphone. Almost three-quarters of these children had already started using Instagram or Snapchat, and more than 40% were 10 years or younger when they first joined them.

Facebook, which is developing an Instagram app for children under 13, says the new app would keep children away from its main platform while addressing security and privacy concerns. But lawmakers, prosecutors, and children’s and consumer groups are deeply concerned.

It’s not as if once a child turns 13, they’re suddenly ready to handle all of the issues that can come with having a social media account. After all, some adults still struggle with this.

Think about the least invasive ways to set time limits and etiquette on social media rather than constantly monitoring your child’s online interactions, and aim to come across as support and help, rather than just someone. ‘one who will be perceived as anxious, shocked or punitive, Dr. Heitner suggested.

When you decide your kids are ready to have their own device, don’t give them 24/7 access, experts said.

Remove phones, tablets, or other electronics from your child’s room at night. And if your teenager uses their phone as an alarm clock, buy an alarm clock that isn’t connected to the Internet, Dr Twenge said.

Pick a platform and time period, she added. You could say, for example, that your child can use Instagram for 30 minutes a day. You can set this limit through your phone – on Apple find Family Sharing settings and on Android you can use an app called Family Link. Once the time has elapsed, the app on your child’s phone will no longer be accessible. To prevent unwanted downloads, there is also a Ask to Buy setting on Apple phones that will send a request to the parent when the kids want to buy or download a new item.

If you have a kid who is tech-savvy and could try overriding settings like this, you may need to physically remove their device after the time limit, Dr Heitner said.

You may also want to consider giving your child a Gabb phone, which does not support web browsing or apps, or Pinwheel, a smartphone with several built-in parental controls, including the ability to monitor your child’s communications.

A 2019 report from Common Sense Media found that most tweens and teens with a phone or tablet don’t use apps or tools to track their device’s time, but experts said that it is something that everyone, including parents, can benefit from.

If you’d rather not monitor social media usage electronically, you can just have your child turn their phone over while they focus on homework or some other activity, Dr Twenge said.

It is important for children (and adults) to understand that the more attention we pay to our phones, the less energy we invest in the rest of our lives and, therefore, “the rest of our life actually becomes less interesting.” . said Anna Lembke, chief of the Stanford Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic at Stanford University and author of “Dopamine Nation”.

At table and elsewhere, family members must “all collectively focus our attention on one another,” she said. “We have to do this in order to preserve these connections. Be honest about your own struggles to limit media use. Take digital breaks when needed and encourage your kids to switch off, too.

“Social media platforms are designed to be addictive,” Dr Twenge said. “It’s not just an individual problem, it’s a group problem.”

A study published in 2016 found that less than half of parents surveyed regularly discuss social media content with their tweens and teens.

But experts have said that it helps to talk to your teenager about who they are following and how those accounts make them feel.

Dr Heitner warned that teens should be especially careful of diet or exercise sites, as they could “clog your eating” and potentially encourage unhealthy thoughts or behaviors. The algorithms will deliver content related to who your kids are following, what they’re looking for, and how they’re browsing online.

Laura Tierney, founder and CEO of The Social Institute, an organization that teaches students across the country how to browse social media in a positive way, advises teens to dig into their social media settings to find out why some ads appear in their flows. .

Start by visiting the settings of the Instagram app, then choose “security”, then “access data”. Under “Advertising interests,” you can see the specific things Instagram thinks you like, based on your personal data. In Ms. Tierney’s experience, “most students don’t even have a clue that this exists.”

She also suggested helping your child find real role models. “It’s about surrounding yourself with positive influences,” she said. They could be peers or celebrities like gymnast Simone Biles. If your child’s diet contains any counts that undermine their self-esteem, these are the ones your child needs to give up quickly, Ms. Tierney said.

“As a parent, your job is to listen and ask open-ended questions,” she added. For starters, you can ask what your kid’s top five accounts are compared to their last five – and share yours, too – and explain why you’ve categorized them that way.

“You want to be surrounded by accounts that help you become the best version of yourself,” she said.

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