“Teenagers don’t have good self-regulation,” Haugen said. “They say explicitly, ‘I feel bad when I use Instagram and I can’t stop.’ We need to protect the kids.”
Known as the Facebook whistleblower, Haugen testified for nearly 3½ hours before the Senate Commerce consumer protection, product safety and data security subcommittee. It was Haugen’s first public appearance after she revealed herself Sunday evening as the source of a leak of thousands of pages of internal company research that highlighted the damaging effects Facebook and its other platforms, especially Instagram, have on younger users. The material was leaked to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Wall Street Journal.
While the impact of her testimony is unknown, here are some things parents can do now to make sure their children are safe.
Don’t just take away social media
It’s tempting to see these concerns and decide that banning all social media is the best fix. But children, especially teenagers, are likely to find other access, and the biggest change will be a lack of open communication with them.
Wait until at least 13 to sign them up, but educate earlier
Don’t let children go on social media apps until at least 13. However, you can start easing them in at 11 or 12, says technology-and-kids expert Devorah Heitner. Show them how social media works by using it together on your own devices, looking at Instagram posts or TikTok dances in a controlled environment where you can guide them through the risks and rewards of these apps.
Make sure you educate yourself as well by testing out the different apps and reading up on advice from teens themselves.
Don’t just plunge children in on their own when they hit the arbitrary allowed age. Consider your child’s emotional readiness. When you ask them to stop watching Netflix or put away a video game, do they listen and do it?
“If they’re able to self-regulate, that’s a sign they have the maturity to have less oversight. Look for those self-regulation cues,” said Vicki Harrison, program director for the Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing.
Ease them into social media and be aware of their communities
There is no requirement to give them any social media at 13, or to give them everything at once. You want to build skills slowly. One option is to let them install one social media service at a time and let them start only with a small following, such as family members or close friends. If they’re into a specific community, such as those centered on makeup tutorials, skating or dances, make sure you’re also aware of what happens in those circles. Ask them to show you around and follow some on your own accounts.
“You need to be as involved in the communities they are interacting with online as you are offline,” Harrison said.
Don’t depend on tech tools to do the parenting for you
There are a number of applications you can install and settings you can turn on to monitor your children’s social media activities. You can use parental controls on smartphones to limit how much time they spend on YouTube, set the router to cut off WiFi at certain hours, or use a service like Bark to get alerts if they share or encounter dangerous content.
“I’m less of a fan of monitoring and more a fan of mentoring. Looking [at] this app, talking to them about it as opposed to covertly monitoring,” said Heitner, author of “Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World.”
Keep on talking and talking
Talk to your kids daily about what they’re up to online and make it a condition of them having access to social media. Ask them about what they’re seeing online and even what news they are hearing about. Give them a place to work through what they’re seeing, help them understand what is real or not, and teach them how to view everything on social media — including the companies themselves — with a critical eye.