Yesterday, Meta group launched The Family Center on Instagram (IG). This provides parents with tools and resources to help support their teens’ online experience. Quick aside: Teens, because the minimum age to sign up for an Instagram account is 13 years old. Accessed via the Instagram app, the Family Center includes an educational hub with articles, videos, and tips to help parents start conversations about social media and digital wellness with their children. It also has Meta’s first-ever suite of “family supervision tools” that lets parents keep tabs on what their teens are doing on the social media platform. With these tools, parents can:
- Manage the time their teen spends on Instagram by setting screen time limits and scheduling breaks
- Keep track of connections with notifications of new accounts their teens follow, as well as the accounts that follow them
- Get notified when teens make a report on Instagram
The caveat? Their teen will have to accept the parent’s invitation, or vice versa, to initiate supervision tools. IG tells us that “teens can invite parents to supervise their accounts — giving parents a peace of mind while respecting their teens’ autonomy”.
At the pre-launch event, Philip Chua, head of Instagram public policy for Asia Pacific at Meta shared that teens who were consulted in the development of these supervision tools supported the initiative. Errrr, who are these teens and where can I find them and bribe them to be friends with my children?
I rushed home after the event, and told my teen about the supervision tools. Then I logged on to my IG account and waited with bated breath for my invitation. It’s been more than 36 hours. I think I can safely assume that it will not be ping-ing into my DMs anytime soon. When I asked the teen about it I had to do the Neo Matrix backbend dodge as words like “privacy”, “boundaries”, “do you think I’m stupid?” came flying.
“No, but,” I started, and stopped short when the child gave me a look I recognised. He had inherited it from me, and I inherited it from my mum, who probably inherited it from hers. It expressed eloquently that this conversation was over. When you are a mum of teens, you become pretty proficient in wordless communication.
Keeping Instagram Safe for Teens
Social media can be a brutal playground. Hence Meta’s move to keep young people safe, and support their wellbeing online, is welcome. “Our intention is for these tools and resources to strike the right balance between young people’s desire for autonomy online, whilst allowing for some involvement from parents and caregivers to help ensure their teen is having a safe experience online,” Philip said. Panellists at the event emphasised the importance of building trust between parent and teen, and keeping communication channels open.
“I’ve always had a good relationship with my mum growing up, so I never felt the need to hide what I do online or on social media from her,” said content creator Pamela Lee Nur Shuhadah, who shared that her mum was the first follower on all her social media accounts. “Apart from finding a balance between autonomy and supervision, I believe deeply that there must be a strong foundation of trust established between parent and teen.”
“The key word is interested,” added Shem Yao, Head of Parenting at TOUCH Community Services, who said that parents have to “take it up a notch” and be invested in what their child likes. The father of three used the analogy of a meerkat to describe this, saying that parents should (like meerkats) poke their heads out, be cognizant of what’s happening in the online landscape, and be able to break it down to the child’s level, and discuss it with them.
Build Trust, Strike a Balance, Maintain open Communication
With a decent level of trust between parent and child, will there still be a need for such parental controls? Do I really want to perform such checks and balances on my child’s social media accounts? Even if your teen does not use Instagram, they could be active on another social media app which does not have parental supervision tools. What then? I did a straw poll with some mum friends who have young teens to ask them what they thought.
- “If I’m going to track Instagram then I should also track everything else.”
- “More controls means he has to spend more time hacking through the controls.”
- “I think parents would love it, but our kids won’t. They may add you in one IG account but use a private account with their friends.”
- “I set some boundaries and we work around those. So far so good, she honours her words and she likes it that I kept mine too.”
There will be parents and teens out there who welcome Instagram’s new parental supervision tools. The teens themselves may even be the ones to initiate the use of these tools. Moreover, they can be useful if children are starting out on social media, on their first phone. Bringing in supervision tools from the very beginning also helps set a precedent for younger siblings who will go through the same journey. Ultimately though, the success of these tools depends on the relationship between parent and child.
Like Shem, I’ll be a meerkat. But I won’t attempt to ferret out their every move on social media. Because at the end of the day, it’s a question of trust, isn’t it? I’d continue to build trust and communication between my children and me, and ensure that they know that I will be there for them no matter what happens — on, or offline. And then… keep my fingers crossed, pray, “let them grow up, and watch from the sidelines” as one friend advised. As another mum friend says, “parenting is — do your best, and hope for the best, right?”
Find out more about The Family Center here.
(See also: How Visuals can help Nurture your Child’s Creativity and Critical Thinking)