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Friday, May 26, 2023

How Can Parents Protect Their Teens from Online Exposure?

Families, communities, and nations are stronger when parents limit the exposure that their children have to screens. Actress Kate Winslet recently won an award for playing the part of a distraught mother in “I Am Ruth,” a U.K. drama depicting the struggle of a severely depressed teenage girl with social media addiction. In accepting the award, Winslet spotlighted the harm caused by social media.

In the words of Winslet, the television drama is “for families who feel they are held hostage by the perils of the online world, for parents who wish they could still communicate with their teenagers but who no longer can, and for young people who are addicted to social media and its darker sides.”

Winslet called for politicians and other “people in power” to make changes to “criminalize harmful content” and to “eradicate harmful content.” She concluded, “We want our children back; we don’t want to lie awake terrified for children’s mental health….”

Winslet is joined by “many celebrities” and parents in voicing “concerns about the dangers of social media and smartphones,” according to Alysse ElHage and Brad Wilcox. ElHage is the editor of Family Studies, and Wilcox is the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. Together they wrote the article with the above information as well as some suggestions for parents. 

·         Delay giving smartphones to children until at least high school. “Delaying a smartphone also helps parents delay social media longer, at least on the child’s phone. And given the harms of social media, especially for young teens, limiting your young teens (10-14) to a simple phone is a smart move.”

·         Limit and monitor the use of smartphones. “When your older teen is ready for a smartphone, the good news is that you do not have to hand the phone over and hope for the best. There are a variety of tools that parents can use to limit their children’s time online, monitor their phone and oversee their use of social media.”

§  Bark is” an internet filtering and monitory app that alerts parent to problematic photos, text messages and websites, and help them manage a child’s time on the device and on various apps…. Bark also monitors teens’ use of social media and music apps, such as Instagram and Spotify, and gives parents an alert on their phones if there is a concern.”

§  Google Family Link “is free with a Gmail address. Family Link allows parents to block or limit apps, set limits on phone time and block certain websites, as well as track a child’s phone via GPS. (Parent tip: Adjust your child’s birth date if you plan to use the tool after they turn 13).

·         Use built-in controls. “Finally, parents who have allowed their teens to use social media sites should also be taking advantage of the new parental-control tools offered by many of these platforms, including SnapChat and Instagram. While we do not recommend relying solely on these built-in controls, they can provide a good backup tool, and from our experience, they go over better with teens.”

§  “Instagram’s parental supervision tools, for instance, enable parents to monitor whom their teen is following and who follows them, and (more importantly) to set daily time limits, ranging from 15 minutes to two hours. Parents can also institute scheduled daily breaks from the app - all through the parent’s Instagram account.”

·        Know the passwords. “Parents should also have access to their children’s passwords for their smartphones and social media apps so they can check in on their teens’ virtual world and make sure they are not getting into trouble online.”

According to ElHage and Wilcox, “things do not have to reach a crisis point where our teen is severely depressed, addicted to social media, dealing with an eating disorder, or suicidal due to unfiltered and unmonitored smartphone and social media use.” Parents must understand that they “are the first and most important line of defense in the battle against Big Tech for our children’s hearts, minds and health.” Parents should “be looking at [their] child’s phone regularly, monitoring its use, controlling the flow of information that is flowing through it and getting in between [your] child and harmful online content.” The most important thing that parents should do is “do not … wait for the government to limit our teens’ exposure to social media.”

Congress is working on legislation like the “Protecting Kids on Social Media Act.” However, parents can act in the best interest of their children “by delaying the smartphone and any social media until at least high school, taking advantage of non-internet forms of communication for the tween years, and using the countless tools available to help us limit, monitor and filter our teen’s time online once they acquire a smartphone.” By following this counsel, parents can strengthen their families, communities, and nations.

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