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By now, every parent probably knows that social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok can have an impact on the mental and physical health of their kids. The mainstream media has been full of stories about kids bullying other kids on social media, as well as stories about bad actors specifically targeting underaged kids on social media platforms. Despite all this attention, though, how much has really changed over the past 12 months?
Yes, the big social media platforms have been dragged in front of Congress. Yes, the big social media platforms have promised to introduce new checks and balances to protect users under the age of 13. And, yes, individuals like the “Facebook whistleblower” (Frances Haugen) have specifically outlined how Big Tech companies try to make their social media platforms as addictive as possible, so parents know what to watch out for.
However, parents need to get more involved here. Trust in Big Tech is gone, and parents can only rely on each other to protect their kids. Here’s what they can be doing now…
#1: Get up to date on the social media guides from each platform
One thing the big Silicon Valley companies have done is release social media guides for their respective platforms. Instagram, for example, has an educational hub for parents, as well as video tutorials on how to use different supervision tools. Facebook has a “safety center,” where parents can learn about tools, resources or articles to help them protect their kids. This is a good starting point for understanding which safeguards are already in place, and which ones parents might need to institute themselves.
#2: Start using tools already available
Once you’ve gotten up to speed on what’s out there, it’s time to put some of these supervisory tools into effect. For example, did you know that some social platforms allow parents to get an update every time their child makes a change to their privacy settings? Did you know that Facebook allows parents to see which accounts their teens have blocked? Did you know that some social sites allow parents to approve in-app downloads? All of these steps can help parents spot potential risks before they transform into something much darker. For example, if a parent sees that their teen has suddenly started blocking many social media accounts, they might be able to conclude that this child is being bullied online.
#3: Use information from these tools as launching points for new conversations
Ultimately, these new social media tools are not going to work if kids think they are being spied on or surveilled. Remember, teens are at a very vulnerable point in their lives, and their relationships are much more prone to ups and downs than the relationships of adults. But you can certainly use some of the information that you’ve learned online to open up new discussions with your teen. For example, if you notice that they are no longer active on social media, this might be a clue that they are having troubles at school. At the very least, you can stop the spread of harmful viral trends, such as some very scary social media challenges.(Google “Blue Whale Challenge” only if you are prepared to lose your faith in humanity.)
At the end of the day, one thing is clear: parents need to be taking a much more proactive role in protecting their kids on social media. It all starts with the social media guides widely available on every social media platform. They could be the key to saving your kids from online threats out there.