If you have teen sons or daughters, you probably worry about their social media involvement. Social media has been associated with bullying, poor body image, and even suicidal thoughts in teens.
More than 80% of teens use social media every day, with 72% using Instagram in particular. While many teens use social media to keep in touch with friends and family members, social media platforms like Instagram also offer content to teens based on their marketing algorithms.
A recent study by the Tech Transparency Project uncovered drug-related suggestions for teen accounts. It’s easy for tech-savvy teens to get around platforms’ attempts to limit self-harm or anorexia-glorifying content. And many teens feel worse about themselves when they see other people’s carefully-chosen photos, even when those photos don’t break the website’s rules.
The American Academy of Pediatrics sees potential for learning in social media, but also expresses concern about cyberbullying, sexting, and addiction.
Take advantage of new features
Instagram has announced some new features to protect teens — from inappropriate connections with adults, and even from themselves.
First, they are not allowing adults to tag or mention teens who don’t follow them. Instagram stopped adults from messaging teens who don’t follow them earlier this year.
They’re also updating their search algorithm for teens to help protect them from inappropriate content.
Then there’s the new “take a break” feature.
Take a Break
Users can set up their accounts to send them a message after 10, 20, or 30 minutes, suggesting that they’ve been scrolling too long and they should take a break from Instagram.
This is an extension of the Daily Limit feature, which lets users limit themselves to 30 minutes (or 3 hours) a day of Instagram time.
Since Instagram supports itself through ad revenue, it normally works hard to keep people on the platform as long as possible. Like Facebook, which owns Instagram, Instagram has been criticized for its manipulative ways, and Take a Break is a response to the criticism.
There is research suggesting that social media offers positive as well as negative experiences for tweens and teens. However, spending hours scrolling through aspirational body check posts is not the best use of your child’s time.
Take a Break can make kids aware that they’ve been spending a lot more time than they realize on Instagram.
Instagram will also nudge users who have been focusing on one topic to look at something different. While this may not appeal to adults who use Instagram to improve their baking and don’t want to see anything else, it is intended to keep teens from dwelling on topics that may be unwholesome.
Seeing teens scroll through hundreds of posts on #bbl or #bodycheck, Instagram will ask, “Time for something else?” and show some alternatives.
Hub for parents and guardians
Instagram expects to launch some new tools for parents and guardians, including an educational hub, in March. The new tools will allow parents to set limits, rather than requiring kids to limit themselves.
In the meantime, parents can help teens keep their Instagram use positive.
- Help kids set up Take a Break. Here’s how: go to your profile, click on the hamburger (the three lines stacked in the upper righthand corner) and choose “Your activity.” Click on “Time Spent” and then on “Set reminder to take breaks.”
- Take the opportunity while you’re doing this to see how much time your child spends on Instagram on an average day (you’ll see that in the “Time Spent” section. Discuss the positive and negative aspects of their experience there.
- Ask whether they feel good about their followers, and the people whom they’ve chosen to follow. Try to listen calmly and avoid immediate negative reactions as you use the conversation to explore issues.
If the conversation with your kids leads you to worry about them, talk with your pediatrician.