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Instagram and Facebook are adding more parental controls. Critics say they aren’t enough

by Ethan Kim
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parental controls

Instagram and Facebook’s parent company, Meta, are introducing additional parental controls and privacy features to address concerns about the impact of social media on the mental health of teenagers. However, critics argue that these measures are inadequate.

One of the new features on Instagram involves sending a notification to teenagers after they block someone, encouraging them to allow their parents to supervise their account. The intention is to capture the attention of young users when they may be more receptive to parental guidance.

For teenagers who opt in, parents will have the ability to set time limits, monitor their child’s followers and who they follow, and track the amount of time spent on Instagram. However, parents will not be able to view message content.

Instagram previously introduced parental supervision tools to assist families in navigating the platform and accessing resources and guidance. One sticking point is that children need to sign up if they want their parents to supervise their accounts, and it remains unclear how many teenage users have opted in.

Meta claims that by making the feature optional, it aims to strike a balance between teen safety and autonomy while fostering conversations between parents and their children.

When families do opt in, parental supervision enables parents to see how many friends their child shares with accounts they follow or are followed by. If the child is followed by someone whom none of their friends follow, it could be a warning sign that the teen does not personally know that individual.

Jim Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, dismisses these new features as a distraction, asserting that they fail to address the negative impact of the companies’ business models on children’s well-being and mental health. Steyer advocates for national privacy laws to protect children.

Meta is also incorporating parental supervision tools available on Instagram and its virtual reality product into Messenger. This opt-in feature allows parents to monitor their child’s time spent on the messaging service and access information such as contact lists and privacy settings, but they cannot view the content of their conversations.

While these features can benefit families already actively involved in their child’s online activities, experts highlight that many parents are not engaged to that extent.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently warned that there is insufficient evidence to deem social media safe for children and teenagers. He called on tech companies to take immediate action to safeguard kids. Murthy contends that while social media platforms have implemented certain safety measures, they fall short. Additionally, many younger children gain access to platforms like Instagram and TikTok by lying about their age, with or without parental permission.

Murthy argues that it is unfair to place the burden of managing rapidly evolving technology on parents, as it fundamentally alters how children perceive themselves, form friendships, and experience the world—a responsibility previous generations did not have to bear.

Starting Tuesday, Meta will also encourage children to take breaks from Facebook, just as it currently does on Instagram. After 20 minutes, teenage users will receive a notification advising them to step away from the app. They can choose to ignore the notice and continue scrolling. TikTok recently introduced a 60-minute time limit for users under 18, although it can be bypassed with a passcode set by the teenagers themselves or, for children under 13, by their parents.

Meta’s Diana Williams, overseeing product changes for youth and families, explains that the focus is on providing a suite of tools to support parents and teenagers in engaging safely and appropriately online. The company believes in nudging teens rather than compelling them to disengage, as they may be using the apps for educational purposes such as researching school papers.

Williams emphasizes the goal of helping teenagers recognize how they spend their time and whether it is meaningful.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about parental controls

What new features are Instagram and Facebook’s parent company, Meta, adding?

Instagram and Meta are introducing new parental supervision tools and privacy features to address concerns about the impact of social media on teen mental health. These features allow parents to set time limits, monitor followers, and track usage time, among other capabilities.

Can parents view the content of their child’s messages on Instagram?

No, parents cannot view the content of their child’s messages on Instagram. While the new features allow parents to supervise their child’s account and monitor various aspects of their activity, message content remains private.

Are these features mandatory for teenagers?

No, these features are optional for teenagers. Teens and their parents need to opt-in to enable parental supervision. The aim is to strike a balance between teen safety and autonomy while encouraging conversations between parents and their children.

Do these features address the concerns raised by critics?

Critics argue that these new features fall short in addressing the negative impact of social media on teen mental health. They claim that the business models of these platforms still need to be addressed and call for national privacy laws to protect children.

Why is Meta making these features optional?

Meta states that making the features optional is an attempt to balance teen safety and autonomy. They believe that giving teenagers the choice to opt-in promotes conversations between parents and their children regarding online activities.

Can parents monitor their child’s conversations on Messenger?

While parents can use the parental supervision tools on Messenger to monitor certain aspects such as time spent and contact lists, they cannot view the content of their child’s conversations.

What has the U.S. Surgeon General said about social media and children’s safety?

The U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, has expressed concerns about the safety of social media platforms for children and teens. He believes that current actions taken by tech companies are not enough to protect kids and has called for immediate action.

Are there time limits imposed on Facebook and Instagram usage for teenagers?

Yes, Meta encourages teenagers to take breaks from Facebook and Instagram. After 20 minutes of usage, teenage users will receive a notification to take a break. However, this break is optional, and they can choose to ignore the notification and continue using the app.

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