If you’re the parent of a teen, or a kid who will soon be one, you’ve likely spent some time freaking out about their social media usage. Parents have been on high alert since last fall, when a Wall Street Journal exposé, then whistleblower Frances Haugen, blew the lid on how much Facebook (now Meta) knew when it came to how bad Instagram is for teens, especially girls.
Having to toe the impossible line of allowing our kids a healthy amount of socialization with peers while keeping them safe from algorithms that have been shown to exacerbate eating disorders and thoughts of suicide, parents are desperate for any help with damage control in the social media universe.
In response to pleas — and to the eight lawsuits filed against Meta that claim its algorithms are designed to get kids addicted — Meta is rolling out a few new parental control tools for Instagram, as well as for its Oculus Quest VR headsets.
On Instagram, parents will now be able to send invitations to their teens to initiate parental supervision tools. Previously, teens could invite parents, but not vice versa. (Tip: if your teen is dragging their feet accepting your invite, remind them who pays the bill for their phone.) This allows you to see who your teen follows, and who follows them.
In addition, parents will also now be able to limit the times of day, or days of the week, that their kids use Instagram — allowing you to make the app off-limits during nighttime hours to encourage sleep, for example.
Via the Family Center, parents will also be able see if their teen has reported another account or post. They’ll see who was reported, and the type of report. While this is useful information, keep in mind that you’ll only be informed about worrisome content if your teen makes a report, something they may be particularly reluctant to do when it involves one of their peers IRL.
Teens in some countries will also begin to see “nudges,” or suggestions “to switch to a different topic if they’re repeatedly looking at the same type of content.” Meta says that “take a break” reminders that teens can enable are coming soon.
Unfortunately, the company doesn’t have a fix for one of the biggest and most concerning issues — users under 13 obtaining Instagram accounts. While rules state that users need to be at least 13 years old, no age verification is required to open an account, so there’s no way to enforce this.
“There really is no panacea for solving that problem,” Antigone Davis, Meta’s head of safety, told NPR’s Morning Edition. “We’re trying to come up with multiple ways to address that issue.”
If you have an Oculus Quest VR headset that your teen uses, you’ll now be able to view which apps they use, block particular apps you don’t want them to access, receive purchase notifications when they buy new apps, and automatically block purchases based on International Age Rating Coalition (IARC) ratings.
Parents are now able to see who teen is friends with on the Oculus, monitor how much time they are using the headset, and block them from using Link or AirLink to access content from their PC on the Oculus (this could allow them to circumvent the block you’ve placed on an app, for example).
While it’s always good to have more information, no parental control tool can alert you to every dangerous thing your child comes across either on social media or on a VR device. And even if you had access to everything your teen is doing online, there aren’t enough hours in the day for you to examine all of it.
Your number one alert system is your teen. The best way for you to find out that your child is struggling with body image issues, or that they’ve seen someone post disturbing content, is for your teen to come to you directly with this information via an old-fashioned, face-to-face conversation.