This week, 33 states filed suit against Instagram’s parent company, Meta, over features that it says addict children. But what role do we play as parents, too?

Since an 2021 internal study was leaked in 2021 by the WSJ, stakeholders at every level are wrestling with how to safeguard children from the harmful effects of TikTok, YouTube and Instagram, as well as other platforms. In addition to addictive features, these platforms also may cause harm by misleading users about the safety of social media for kids online. The latest suit once again bring up the question of whether social media is harmful for children and who is responsible for protecting children? This has been a question circulating for over two years, with little consensus. 

“Meta has harnessed powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teens,” according to the complaint filed in the Oakland, California federal court. “Its motive is profit.”

I spoke about the news of the latest lawsuit here

The issue central to this lawsuit remains: who is in charge of regulating social media – and the yet-to-be-understood impacts of technology going forward? With artificial intelligence, the metaverse and the proliferation of new, immerse advances aimed to bridge the gap between real life and a digital one, the social media test is just the beginning. Measures are being taking internationally.

With social media, the issue is complex because there are many stakeholders who can influence a child’s exposure to a platform including parents, caregivers, educators, policymakers, practitioners, and members of the tech industry. 

Tech companies can do more to safeguard our children not just from the harmful effects of social media, but also in terms of racism, bias and misinformation that are embedded into algorithms.  The solutions are not simple but they are necessary to move towards, something that the government policy can help to usher in more quickly.

The role of parents in protecting kids online

Yet parents also have an obligation to meeting the individual needs of their children.

The effects of social media likely depend on what teens can do and see online, teens’ preexisting strengths or vulnerabilities, and the contexts in which they grow up.

The American Psychological Association

Earlier this year, the Surgeon General called upon policymakers, technology companies, researchers, families, and young people alike to take action and maximize the benefits and minimize the harms of social media platforms, and create safer, healthier online environments to protect children.  But little has changed even with these recommendations and since the study link.

Thus, it currently remains the burden of parents and caregivers to form an educated partnership with children in driving the discussion around social media. It is important to remember that scientific research does not show that social media is universally harmful. Yet, the American Psychological Association recently came out with guidance for teens on social media which, I find, are helpful in guiding my role as a parent in protecting my kids online:

  1. Actively use controls – social media platforms do have a variety of controls, checks and monitoring screens available for parents. These should be actively used and part of regular discussions between caregivers and children. Upgrade to platforms like Qustodio or Circle to fill in gaps that Apple and Meta don’t address.
  2. Adapt controls with age – As your children advances in grades in school, for example, their social media guardrails can also advance, as I have written about here. Controls are also updated regularly so be sure to check in annually, or more frequently, to make sure you are using the latest.
  3. Friend your child online – when you are ready to give your child a social media account, be sure to join the platform and friend them online so you can monitor their behavior.
  4. Model ideal behavior – if you don’t want your child to “doomscroll” during dinner, then you should model the same at the table. As with any value, our children follow our behavior and notice incongruence. Model boundaries with tech, so they can learn to do the same.