Is Your Child Safe Online? A Parent’s Guide to Social Media Dangers & Solutions

Is Your Child Safe Online? A Parent’s Guide to Social Media Dangers & Solutions

This week saw a significant event as Senate lawmakers grilled social media CEOs in a highly charged hearing addressing the risks their platforms pose to children. Issues discussed included the presence of sexual predators, content promoting suicide, glorification of eating disorders, bullying, and addictive features. Both Republican and Democratic senators expressed rare agreement during the hearing, although it remains uncertain whether this unity will lead to the passage of legislation such as the Kids Online Safety Act or other proposed measures aimed at safeguarding children from online dangers.

In the interim, while laws and regulations are in progress, parents and teens may wonder how to stay safe online. Here are some tips for maintaining safety, communication, and setting boundaries on social media, applicable to both kids and their parents.

Is 13 the right age for social media use?

Technically, there’s already a rule prohibiting children under 13 from using platforms that target them with advertisements without parental consent—the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) enacted in 2000. However, with changing times, concerns about online safety extend beyond privacy. Issues such as bullying, harassment, and mental health risks have emerged. While there have been calls to delay children’s access to smartphones and social media until they are older, neither social media companies nor the government have implemented concrete changes to increase the age limit.

Regarding the age limit debate, social media expert Christine Elgersma from Common Sense Media suggests that while there’s no definitive age, 13 may not be the most suitable age for kids to join social media platforms. Proposed laws include blanket bans on those under 13, but verifying age during app sign-ups remains challenging. Elgersma emphasizes the need for developers to design apps with children in mind.

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Some parents and tech executives, including celebrities like Jennifer Garner, opt to completely restrict their kids’ access to social media. However, experts caution that this could isolate children from social interactions and discussions. Additionally, children who have never used social media may struggle to navigate it when they come of age.

Initiating conversations about online safety early is crucial. Parents are encouraged to review their own social media feeds with their children before they are old enough to use the platforms independently. For older kids, engaging them in discussions about their online activities and interests is recommended.

Setting limits on screen time is another effective strategy. Taking away phones overnight to limit excessive scrolling has proven successful for many parents. Explaining to children why limits are necessary and modeling responsible phone use can also reinforce healthy habits.

What about parental controls?

Social media platforms aimed at children are under increasing scrutiny regarding child safety, prompting them to introduce a growing number of parental controls. Meta, for example, rolled out parental supervision tools last year, enabling parents to set time limits, monitor their child’s followers and following, and track their time spent on Instagram. However, these tools do not grant parents access to message content.

Similar to features on other platforms like TikTok, the parental control feature on Instagram is optional, requiring agreement from both children and parents to activate it. Instagram employs a tactic to encourage teens to accept parental supervision by sending them a notification after blocking someone, urging them to allow their parents to supervise their account. This approach aims to capture kids’ attention at a moment when they may be receptive to parental guidance.

Meta defends the optional nature of these features by stating it seeks to “balance teen safety and autonomy” while encouraging dialogue between parents and their children.

While such features can be beneficial for families where parents are actively involved in their child’s online activities, experts note this is not the reality for many households.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy highlighted last year the challenges faced by parents in managing their children’s use of rapidly evolving technology, which profoundly impacts how kids perceive themselves, build relationships, and engage with the world. Murthy emphasized that previous generations never had to navigate such technology.

About Author

Maria Silva

Maria Silva, a graduate of UCLA in Journalism, is the voice for the voiceless. Her dedication to investigative reporting and her ability to uncover hidden truths make her an asset to the team. Maria's articles often shed light on critical social issues, providing a platform for change. Her well-crafted narratives keep you engaged and informed on the trending news of the day.

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