How Can You Keep Your Kids Safe Online Despite The Intense Social Pressure?

Jean Twenge

In a bombshell report, the Wall Street Journal recently revealed that Facebook conducted internal research for years investigating the negative impacts of Instagram, which are especially acute in teen girls. Last week, the Journal published six of Facebook’s internal documents reporting the research, leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen.

As both a psychology researcher and the mother of three girls ages 9 to 14, the 209 pages of research reports made for fascinating, and sometimes horrifying, reading. Facebook’s own research confirms what many academic researchers had been saying for years—that for some people, especially teen girls, social media can harm mental health, and that the rise in depression and self-harm among teens since 2010 might be caused by the increasing popularity of social media (full disclosure: That’s one of the central arguments of my book, iGen).

Members of Congress from both parties are considering more regulation of social media companies, especially around teen use. For example, perhaps the age minimum for social media should be increased to 16 or 18; at the very least, the age minimum of 13 established by the 1998 COPPA law should be enforced (at the moment, social media companies are not required to verify users’ age, so kids 12 and under routinely lie about their age and easily register for accounts.)

Until more regulation is put in place, parents find themselves in a familiar place: Trying to protect their kids from harm while still letting them live in an increasingly online world. With that in mind, what can the internal Facebook research tell parents about how to help their kids manage their social media use?

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