There are plenty of things kids shouldn’t be doing. Drinking alcohol, taking other drugs, watching violent or sexually explicit shows or games, smoking. In the internet age, we can add one more to the list – engaging in too much screen time. The latest news is about Facebook putting a pause on a new product called Instagram Kids after a report from The Wall Street Journal revealed the dark effects that Instagram has on some teenage girls. Addicting even younger children to a platform meant for adults may be a good business model for Facebook to guarantee future users, but it isn’t necessarily a good mental health model for our kids.
The Facebook argument is that kids are going to use Instagram anyway, so why not make something age-appropriate and build in some parental controls. Well, that may work if you don’t actually have real kids who can easily get around controls, sign up on adult platforms or find digital ways to outsmart the adults in their lives. They’re already doing that, so putting a juvenile costume on an adult platform is not going to solve the problem.
Try an experiment. Google “How to be an Instagram influencer for kids.” You’ll find a plethora of information, not just for kids, but for parents who want to help their children become Instagram influencers. I found a list of 75 Instagram kids to follow. Oh, and most of them also have YouTube channels. Obviously, parents have bought in to the dream of having an insta-famous child because some of these kids were only 2 years old. Maybe we need to think seriously about our definition of fame and success.
I know. I know. Many parents use technology in fun ways with their kids. I get it. But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be some kind of regulation or at least critical thought put into what we want our kids to be doing in their tech lives, writ large.
Using technology as a family can give you opportunities to talk with your children about the ins and outs, your feelings about use, how and why certain ads pop up or how algorithms are used, not just to influence us, but to actually try to shape who we are becoming. Do kids know who they’re messaging or who is commenting on their social platforms? Do you talk to them about their digital footprint? Most kids don’t even have a choice about their digital footprint because their parents have already created one from the time they were infants. (I wonder what those 75 Instagram kid influencers will think when they are no longer children?)
We may think kids are very sophisticated, but developmentally, they’re still children. They think and act like children.
Do you ever feel anxious if your posts don’t get enough likes, or if your follower count seems low compared with others? What about how your LIFE compares with others on Facebook or Instagram? How might a 12-year-old feel?
And do you trust Facebook? You may remember what happened with Messenger Kids. It was set up for young users but allowed strangers to talk to kids through group chats. Not a great track record, Facebook.
The bottom line is that it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that Facebook is acting like a business to increase their bottom line. They should just be honest about it. The whole point is to create the next generation of users so they can be marketed to, not to mention collecting valuable information that can be used in a variety of money-making ways. Even adults are victims of this addiction, so why does anyone believe that Facebook wants to create a kiddie Instagram because they truly, deeply care about children?
Tech giants Bill Gates and Steve Jobs limited tech use with their own kids. But their products and other edu-tech products permeate our schools from “personalized learning” to social emotional learning packages (do we know what information is being collected?!). When did we ask for that?
I hope that Insta-Kiddie is put on hold permanently because it just isn’t good for kids. That, however, doesn’t solve the problems surrounding children and social media. Congress is paying attention, especially after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before a U.S. Senate panel.
It’s a huge, multi-faceted problem. Facebook should be more transparent. It may be time to revisit the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) as well.
What do you think of kids and social media? How do you monitor your kids’ use?