BrightCanary

How to Reset Your Child’s Social Media Algorithm

By Andrea Karin Nelson
October 19, 2023
Three kids using smartphones

As a parent, you want your child to surround themselves with good influences. That’s true not only for who they spend time with in real life, but also for the people and ideas they’re exposed to on social media. 

If you or your child are concerned about the content appearing in their feed, one beneficial step you can take is to help them reset their social media algorithm. Here’s how to reset your child’s algorithm on TikTok, Instagram, and other platforms.

What is a social media algorithm?

Social media algorithms are the complex computations that operate behind the scenes of every social media platform to determine what each user sees. 

Everything on your child’s social media feed is likely the result of something they liked, commented on, or shared. (For a more comprehensive explanation, check out our Parent’s Guide to Social Media Algorithms.)

Social media algorithms have a snowball effect. For example, if your child “likes” a cute dog video, they’ll likely see more of that type of content. However, if they search for topics like violence, adult material, or conspiracy theories, their feed can quickly be overwhelmed with negative content.

Therefore, it’s vital that parents actively examine and reset their child’s algorithm when needed, and also teach them the skills to evaluate it for themselves. 

Research clearly demonstrates the potentially negative impacts of social media on tweens and teens. How it affects your child depends a lot on what’s in their feed. And what’s in their feed has everything to do with algorithms. 

Talking to your child about their algorithm

Helping your child reset their algorithm is a wonderful opportunity to teach them digital literacy. Explain to them why it’s important to think critically about what they see on social media, and what they do on the site influences the content they’re shown. 

Here are some steps you can take together to clean up their feed: 

Start with their favorite app

Resetting all of your child’s algorithms in one fell swoop can be daunting. Instead, pick the app they use the most and tackle that first. 

Scroll through with them

If your kiddo follows a lot of accounts, you might need to break this step into multiple sessions. Pause on each account they follow and have them consider these questions:

  • Do this person’s posts usually make me feel unhappy or bad about myself? 
  • Does this account make me feel like I need to change who I am? 
  • Do I compare my life, body, or success with others when I view this account? 

If the answer “yes” to any of these questions, suggest they unfollow the account. If they’re hesitant — for example, if they’re worried unfollowing might cause friend problems — they can instead “hide” or “mute” the account so they don’t see those posts in their feed. 

Encourage interaction with positive accounts 

On the flip side, encourage your child to interact with accounts that make them feel good about themselves and portray positive messages. Liking, commenting, and sharing content that lifts them up will have a ripple effect on the rest of their feed. 

Dig into the settings 

After you’ve gone through their feed, show your child how to examine their settings. This mostly influences sponsored content, but considering the problematic history of advertisers marketing to children on social media, it’s wise to take a look.  

Every social media app has slightly different options for how much control users have over their algorithm. Here's what you should know about resetting the algorithm on popular apps your child might use.

How to reset Instagram algorithm

  • Go to Settings > Ads > Ad topics. You can view a list of all the categories advertisers can use to reach your child. Tap “See less” for ads you don’t want to see. 
  • Go to your child’s profile > tap Following > scroll through the categories to view (and unfollow) the accounts that appear most in your child’s feed.
  • Tap the Explore tab in the bottom navigation bar and encourage your child to search for new content that matches their interests, like cooking, animals, or TV shows.

How to reset TikTok algorithm

  • Go to Settings > Content Preferences > Refresh your For You feed. This is like a factory reset of your child’s TikTok algorithm.
  • Go to Settings > Free up space. Select “Clear” next to Cache. This will remove any saved data that could influence your child’s feed.
  • As your child uses TikTok, point out the “Not Interested” feature. Tap and hold a video to pull up this button. Tapping “Not interested” tells TikTok’s algorithm not to show your child videos they don’t like. 

How to reset YouTube algorithm

  • Go to Library > View All. Scroll back through everything your child has watched. You can manually remove any videos that your child doesn’t want associated with their algorithm — just then tap the three dots on the right side, then select Remove from watch history.
  • Go to Settings > History & Privacy. Tap “Clear watch history” for a full reset of your child’s YouTube algorithm.

What to watch for

To get the best buy-in and help your child form positive long-term content consumption habits, it’s best to let them take the lead in deciding what accounts and content they want to see. 

At the same time, kids shouldn't have to navigate the internet on their own. Social platforms can easily suggest content and profiles that your child isn't ready to see. A social media monitoring app, such as BrightCanary, can alert you if your child encounters something concerning.

Here are a few warning signs you should watch out for as you review your child's feed: 

If you spot any of this content, it’s time for a longer conversation to assess your child’s safety. You may decide it’s appropriate to insist they unfollow a particular account. And if what you see on your child’s feed makes you concerned for their mental health or worried they may harm themselves or others, consider reaching out to a professional.  

In short 

Algorithms are the force that drives everything your child sees on social media and can quickly cause their feed to be overtaken by negative content. Regularly reviewing your child’s feed with them and teaching them skills to control their algorithm will help keep their feed positive and minimize some of the negative impacts of social media. 

Woman smiling at phone while sitting on couch

Just by existing as a person in 2023, you’ve probably heard of social media algorithms. But what are algorithms? How do social media algorithms work? And why should parents care? 

At BrightCanary, we’re all about giving parents the tools and information they need to take a proactive role in their children’s digital life. So, we’ve created this guide to help you understand what social media algorithms are, how they impact your child, and what you can do about it. 

What is a social media algorithm? 

Social media algorithms are complex sets of rules and calculations used by platforms to prioritize the content that users see in their feeds. Each social network uses different algorithms. The algorithm on TikTok is different from the one on YouTube. 

In short, algorithms dictate what you see when you use social media and in what order. 

Why do social media sites use algorithms?

Back in the Wild Wild West days of social media, you would see all of the posts from everyone you were friends with or followed, presented in chronological order. 

But as more users flocked to social media and the amount of content ballooned, platforms started introducing algorithms to filter through the piles of content and deliver relevant and interesting content to keep their users engaged. The goal is to get users hooked and keep them coming back for more.  

Algorithms are also hugely beneficial for generating advertising revenue for platforms because they help target sponsored content. 

How do algorithms work? 

Each platform uses its own mix of factors, but here are some examples of what influences social media algorithms:

Friends/who you follow 

Most social media sites heavily prioritize showing users content from people they’re connected with on the platform. 

TikTok is unique because it emphasizes showing users new content based on their interests, which means you typically won’t see posts from people you follow on your TikTok feed. 

Your activity on the site

With the exception of TikTok, if you interact frequently with a particular user, you’re more likely to see their content in your feed. 

The algorithms on TikTok, Instagram Reels, and Instagram Explore prioritize showing you new content based on the type of posts and videos you engage with. For example, the more cute cat videos you watch, the more cute cat videos you’ll be shown. 

YouTube looks at the creators you interact with, your watch history, and the type of content you view to determine suggested videos. 

The popularity of a post or video 

The more likes, shares, and comments a post gets, the more likely it is to be shown to other users. This momentum is the snowball effect that causes posts to go viral. 

Why should parents care about algorithms? 

There are ways social media algorithms can benefit your child, such as creating a personalized experience and helping them discover new things related to their interests. But the drawbacks are also notable — and potentially concerning. 

Since social media algorithms show users more of what they seem to like, your child's feed might quickly become overwhelmed with negative content. Clicking a post out of curiosity or naivety, such as one promoting a conspiracy theory, can inadvertently expose your child to more such content. What may begin as innocent exploration could gradually influence their beliefs.

Experts frequently cite “thinspo” (short for “thinspiration”), a social media topic that aims to promote unhealthy body goals and disordered eating habits, as another algorithmic concern.

Even though most platforms ban content encouraging eating disorders, users often bypass filters using creative hashtags and abbreviations. If your child clicks on a thinspo post, they may continue to be served content that promotes eating disorders

Social media algorithm tips for parents

Although social media algorithms are something to monitor, the good news is that parents can help minimize the negative impacts on their child. 

Here are some tips:

Keep watch

It’s a good idea to monitor what the algorithm is showing your child so you can spot any concerning trends. Regularly sit down with them to look at their feed together. 

You can also use a parental monitoring service to alert you if your child consumes alarming content. BrightCanary is an app that continuously monitors your child’s social media activity and flags any concerning content, such as photos that promote self-harm or violent videos — so you can step in and talk about it.

Stay in the know

Keep up on concerning social media trends, such as popular conspiracy theories and internet challenges, so you can spot warning signs in your child’s feed. 

Communication is key

Talk to your child about who they follow and how those accounts make them feel. Encourage them to think critically about the content they consume and to disengage if something makes them feel bad. 

In short

Algorithms influence what content your child sees when they use social media. Parents need to be aware of the potentially harmful impacts this can have on their child and take an active role in combating the negative effects. 

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Child listening to music

At first glance, the idea of setting Spotify parental controls might seem surprising. After all, isn’t Spotify just a music streaming platform? In reality, Spotify offers everything from podcasts to audiobooks — and with all of that media comes content concerns. 

Maybe you’ve heard of reports of pornography showing up on Spotify, or maybe you would rather your kids don’t repeat the f-bomb they picked up while belting along to the latest Olivia Rodrigo track. Whatever your motivation for being leery of giving your child free reign on Spotify, you don’t need to give up on the platform altogether. Both Spotify Kids and Spotify parental controls allow kids to enjoy their tunes while keeping their ears clean.

What is Spotify Kids? 

Spotify Kids is an ad-free service available exclusively with a Spotify Premium Family subscription. Designed for kids aged 12 and under, it features kid-friendly content specifically curated for the youngest listeners. Spotify Kids features music, audiobooks, and more, and allows parents to view and manage the content their child listens to. 

Is Spotify Kids safe? 

Not only does Spotify Kids not contain any content marked Explicit, but it’s also curated by humans, so you don’t have to worry about something sneaking past an algorithm or a filter. 

What age is Spotify Kids for? 

Spotify Kids is specifically designed for kids 12 and under. (Spotify’s terms require users of regular accounts to be at least 13.)

How much does Spotify Kids cost? 

In order to use Spotify Kids, you must have a Spotify Premium Family subscription. Spotify Premium Family is a discounted plan available for up to six family members. It costs $16.99/month, and you can cancel at any time.

How to set up Spotify Kids

Getting started on Spotify Kids is a breeze. Just follow these easy steps: 

  1. Subscribe to Spotify Family Premium
  2. Download the Spotify Kids app to your child’s iOS or Android device.
  3. Follow the prompts to set up a PIN for accessing the settings within the app.
  4. Create an avatar for your child. (They’ll have fun helping you pick!)
  5. Select the appropriate age category for your child: under 6 or 5-12.

Spotify parental controls 

If you have kids over 13, don’t worry — there are still parental control options to keep their listening experience appropriate. To use Spotify parental controls, you must have a Spotify Family account.

Here’s how to set up Spotify parental controls: 

On a mobile device

  1. Open the Spotify website on your mobile browser. 
  2. Tap the Menu icon (≡) in the top right corner. 
  3. Tap Log in
  4. Enter your account details.
  5. Tap Account Overview.
  6. Select Premium Family from the dropdown menu.
  7. In the People on this plan section, tap on the name of the family member whose account you want to manage.
  8. Tap Allow explicit content to toggle it to the off position. 

On a desktop

  1. Open the Spotify website.
  2. Log in to your account. 
  3. Click on the Premium Family tab on the left hand side. 
  4. In the People on this plan section, select the name of the family member whose account you want to manage.
  5. Click on Allow explicit content to toggle it to the off position. 

Spotify on shared family devices  

If your child uses Spotify on a shared family device, and you don’t want to restrict content for that device, be aware that they may come across material that isn’t appropriate for their age. Each family needs to weigh the pros and cons of restricting content and make the choice that’s right for their household. 

If you allow your child to use Spotify on an unrestricted account, it’s a good idea to have a discussion with them about questionable content they might encounter and monitor their use by keeping an ear out or peeking at the listening history. 

In short 

Both Spotify Kids and Spotify parental controls offer families options to keep their kid’s listening experience age-appropriate. If your child listens to music on other platforms, such as YouTube, make sure you use parental control settings on those websites and apps, too. With BrightCanary, you can monitor YouTube activity directly from your phone. 

While it’s good to let your child develop their own interests (and playlists), a little bit of supervision goes a long way in keeping your child from content they’re not old enough to handle on their own. 

Father and son talking on couch

Since the early days of the internet, parents have worried what their children are up to online, and companies have responded with parental controls to help keep kids safe. But the way we use the internet has changed dramatically since its inception. This shift has ushered in the need for new approaches to parental controls. Read on to learn how we got here and to explore the best parental controls and monitoring apps to protect kids online.

Types of parental controls 

There are four basic categories of parental controls, ranging from settings on your child’s devices to third-party software. 

Content filters

These controls filter out inappropriate content, thereby limiting what your child can access. In the early days of the internet, the only way to filter content was to install third-party software, such as Net Nanny. Now, the option to filter content is built right into search engines. 

Usage controls 

Usage controls include things like screen time limits and blocking access to certain types of apps, such as social media or gaming. Apple Screen Time is a prime example: this free service allows you to prevent your child from making purchases on the App Store without your permission, schedule quiet time for notifications, and more.

Computer user management 

User management tools are software that set different levels of access, depending on who’s using the device. If you log in to your family laptop, you’ll have unrestricted access, while your child’s profile will include limitations. Most computers now have this feature built-in. 

Monitoring tools

Monitoring tools do exactly what the name suggests: monitor your child’s activity online. What they monitor varies widely depending on the tool. For example, Apple’s Find My monitors your child’s location, while an app like BrightCanary monitors your child’s social media, text messages, and Google and YouTube activity.

The early days of parental controls 

Back in the Wild, Wild West of the World Wide Web, the options for parental controls were limited to web filters. In 1994, Net Nanny introduced a browser that filtered web and chat room content, blocked images, and masked profanity. 

While it was revolutionary at the time, these were still the days where using the internet meant sitting at a desktop computer — typically on a shared family device — with the unmistakable pings of the dial-up modem announcing anytime someone was online. 

Since then, a lot has changed about how we use technology. Kids can access the internet from the palm of their hand with smartphones, smart watches, and tablets. We’re always connected, always online, and always dealing with the compulsion to check social media feeds. These changes have introduced new needs for keeping kids safe online. 

The changing needs of parents and kids

Between WiFi, mobile devices, and social media, using the internet looks very different than it did in the early days of parental controls. And things like the advent of algorithms and the introduction of monetizing data means our lives are intertwined with the internet in ways we couldn’t have imagined back in dial-up days.  

So, what do modern parents really need with parental controls? 

  • Products that seamlessly integrate into their digital lives: This has been a challenge because, while the iPhone has become the dominant device among teens, Apple is notoriously guarded when it comes to allowing third-party apps to monitor activity. This means that very few parental monitoring solutions have been designed that make monitoring truly easy for parents with kids who use Apple devices. 
  • Products that complement what they’re already doing: Apple now offers robust parental control settings, and most social media platforms have their own suites of controls. This leaves less need for all-in-one apps like Bark and Qustodio, which can feel clunky and redundant when parents can now customize these settings (for free) directly on their phone. Other apps, such as BrightCanary, fill in the gaps by monitoring what other tools don’t, such as social media feeds.
  • The ability to monitor messages: Gone are the days where parents knew who their kids were chatting with because they could overhear them on the phone or sneak a peek as they sent instant messages on the family computer. Nowadays, kids primarily communicate over text messages and direct messages, not only on computers, but on phones, tablets, and smartwatches — often out of sight of parents. This shifting landscape has introduced new avenues for kids to be exposed to harmful content and requires new ways for parents to supervise their children.  

Modern solutions for parenting in the digital age

BrightCanary allows parents to keep tabs on their kid’s online life wherever and whenever, all from their own phone. They offer the most comprehensive coverage for kids on Apple devices and, unlike other apps, they actually allow parents to see what their kids are viewing online and view their text message conversations. It’s a modern solution for the needs of modern families. 

In short 

What families need from parental controls has shifted in recent years, but many companies have failed to keep up with these changes. BrightCanary offers modern parental control solutions that work for modern families. 

Children looking at tablet

It will come as no surprise to parents that YouTube is all the rage with kids. In fact, recent research suggests that nine out of 10 kids use YouTube, and kids under 12 favor YouTube over TikTok. With all of YouTube’s popularity, how can you make the platform safer for your child? Read on to learn how to set parental controls on YouTube. 

Why parental controls matter

As the name implies, YouTube is a platform for user-generated content. While this creates an environment ripe for creativity, it also means there’s a little bit of everything, including videos featuring violent and sexual content, profanity, and hate speech. 

Because YouTube makes it easy for kids to watch multiple videos in a row, there’s always the chance your child may accidentally land on inappropriate content. In addition, the comments section on YouTube videos are often unmoderated and can be full of toxic messages and cyberbullying. 

Due to the risks, it’s important that parents monitor their child’s YouTube usage, discuss the risks with them, and use parental controls to minimize the chance they’re exposed to harmful content. 

How to set parental controls on YouTube

YouTube offers a variety of options for families looking to make their child’s viewing experience as safe as possible. Here are some important steps parents can take: 

Create a supervised Google account for YouTube

A supervised account will allow you to manage your child’s YouTube experience on the app, website, smart TVs, and gaming consoles. 

Select a content setting

There are three content setting options to choose from: 

  • Explore: Content rated for viewers 9+. This category also excludes live streams, with the exception of Premieres
  • Explore more: For viewers 13+. This setting includes a larger set of videos, including live streams. 
  • Most of YouTube: For viewers 13-17. This option has almost everything on YouTube, but excludes content marked as 18+ by either channels or YouTube’s systems or reviewers. 

Set parental controls

Along with content settings, here are some additional YouTube parental controls to explore: 

  • Block specific channels: When monitoring your child's YouTube usage, if you encounter content you prefer they avoid, you have the option to block that channel. 
  • Review your child’s watch history: When you can't supervise their viewing at the moment, you can check what your child has been watching.  
  • Control video suggestions: If you don’t like the videos YouTube’s algorithm is suggesting for your child, try these steps to reset their YouTube algorithm:
    • Clear history
    • Pause watch history 
    • Pause search history
  • Disable Autoplay: This setting prevents YouTube from automatically playing the next suggested video.
  • Set time limits: If you need a little help enforcing screen time limits, this option shuts down the app when your child reaches their max. 

For step-by-step instructions for setting up parental controls, refer to this comprehensive guide by YouTube. 

Where parental controls on YouTube fall short

While YouTube offers an impressive array of parental control settings, you have to manually review your child’s content and watch history in order to catch any concerning content. 

BrightCanary is a parental monitoring app that fills in the gaps. Here’s how BrightCanary helps you supervise your child’s YouTube activity:

  • The app provides summaries of what your child is watching and searching for, so you don’t have to watch each video on your own.
  • Advanced technology automatically scans your child’s video activity and flags anything concerning, so you’ll know when you need to step in.
  • You can either view all of their YouTube activity, or just review any videos flagged as concerning.
  • You can monitor searches, videos, and posts — more coverage than other parental control apps on Apple devices.

YouTube vs. YouTube Kids

For parents looking for additional peace of mind, YouTube Kids provides curated content designed for children from preschool through age 12. 

For households with multiple children, parents can set up an individual profile for each child, so kids can log in and watch videos geared toward their age. YouTube Kids also allows parents to set a timer of up to one hour, limiting how long a child can use the app. 

Parents should be aware that switching to YouTube Kids isn’t a perfect solution. There’s still a chance that inappropriate content may slip through the filters. 

In fact, a study by Common Sense Media found that 27% of videos watched by kids 8 and under are intended for older audiences. And for families concerned about ads, YouTube Kids still has plenty of those — targeted specifically toward younger children. Keeping an eye on what your child is watching and talking to them about inappropriate videos and sponsored content is still a good idea even with YouTube Kids. 

It’s also worth noting that kids under 12 who have a special interest they want to pursue may find YouTube Kids limiting. A child looking to watch Minecraft instructional videos or do a deep dive into space exploration, for example, can find a lot more options on standard YouTube — plenty of which are perfectly appropriate for kids, even if they aren’t specifically geared toward them. It’s cases like this where parental controls and active monitoring with BrightCanary are especially useful. 

The takeaway

YouTube is a popular video platform with plenty to offer kids. It’s not without risks, though. Parents should monitor their child’s use and take advantage of parental controls to ensure a safe, appropriate viewing experience. 

shocked mother looking at phone

You do your best to keep an eye on your child’s online activity by asking questions, periodically checking their device, or perhaps using a monitoring service. (Good job, you!) 

But do you know what to do when your child watches inappropriate things? What if you discover your child watched a sexually explicit video? Or that they’ve been viewing content promoting disordered eating or self-harm? 

A discovery like this can be a lot to process, but you don’t have to go it alone. In this article, we’ll discuss what to do when you find something alarming on your child’s phone.

What to do when your child watches inappropriate things

Here are some steps you can take when you find out that your child has watched something inappropriate on their phone: 

Stay calm

It’s likely you’ll have strong feelings when your child watches something inappropriate. You might be worried, shocked, or angry. You might even feel disbelief, guilt, or denial. 

While these feelings are totally normal, it’s not productive to bring them into your conversation with your child. So, before you do anything, take the time you need to regulate your own emotions so you can approach your child calmly and rationally. 

This could mean talking to a trusted confidant, or simply giving yourself a few days' space before you tackle the situation.

Use empathy

As strong as your feelings were when you discovered your child watched something inappropriate, they may also have intense emotions about what they’ve seen. 

The reaction will vary from child-to-child and can range anywhere from confusion, to curiosity, to shame, to fear. Remember they’re still learning and your job is to guide them through this with empathy and love. 

Let them have their emotions and reassure them that, whatever has happened, you’re there for them. 

Listening is key

Before you launch into problem-solving mode, take the time to ask your child what happened, using open-ended questions as much as you can. Your goal is to gather the facts so you can decide how to address it.

Here are some conversation-starters:

  • “How did you come across this?”
  • “Have you seen something like this before, or is this the first time?” 
  • “How did watching it make you feel?”  

Come up with a plan

Once you’ve established the facts, it’s time to figure out your next steps. You’ll want to tailor your response depending on the content that was viewed, if your child sought it out or stumbled upon it, and if someone else sent it to them. 

The most productive response is one that you work with your child to come up with. Ask them if they have any ideas for what to do before you offer your thoughts. 

Here are things you might include in your plan:

  • Discuss what they can do to be safer online and reduce the likelihood of something like this happening again. 
  • Make sure parental controls are in place to filter out inappropriate content. 
  • Reset your child’s algorithms to reduce the chances they’re shown concerning photos or videos.  
  • If you report the inappropriate content (to a social media platform, your internet service provider, or the authorities), involve your child in the process. This will help them feel more in control of what happened. 

Red flags  

When should you consult a professional? Nicole Baker, assistant professor of psychology at Franklin Pierce University, cautions that frequent exposure to harmful material is a serious concern. This includes sexually explicit or inappropriate messages, photos, videos, content that promotes violence, self-harm, harm to others, drug or alcohol use, and any improper sexual material. If your child is sending or receiving this content from peers or strangers, these are significant red flags.

“While it may be understandable that children come across some of this content in unmonitored environments,” Baker says, “it should be a cause for concern when children actively seek out these types of content online and frequently engage with it.”

Baker adds that it’s also a cause for concern if your child hides messages or uses secret apps to try and cover up their online behavior. 

When to involve the authorities

If your child was contacted by an online predator, or if the content they viewed involved nude, semi-nude, or sexually explicit videos or images of a child, document and report the material to the platform and law enforcement. You can also report the incident to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)’s Cyber Tip Line.

In short

The internet is full of all kinds of questionable content, and there’s a decent chance your child will run across some of it at one point or another. That’s why it’s important to prepare your child by talking to them about what to do if anyone — or anything — makes them feel uncomfortable online.

If you find something alarming on your child’s phone, there are steps you can take to minimize the harm and increase their safety going forward.

Parent talking to daughter on couch

Maybe you’ve heard the warnings that social media impacts your child’s mental health and want to know more. Or perhaps you’ve noticed an increase in anxiety in your kid and wonder if social media could be to blame.

While the causes of issues like anxiety are complex, research shows that social media can be one factor which negatively impacts children’s mental health. In this article, we’ll explore the dangers of social media for youth mental health and what you can do to help them. 

Trends in children’s mental health

If you’re worried about your child’s anxiety, you’re not alone. A recent report from Pew Research Center listed mental health as the greatest concern for parents, with 40% reporting being “extremely” or “very” worried. Pediatricians anecdotally report an uptick in recent years in the number of mental health issues they see in patients. 

How does social media cause anxiety? 

In many ways, research into the impact of social media on mental health is still in its infancy. But beyond the numbers, the very nature of social media platforms offer clues into possible risks. 

Even before social media, tweens and teens often compared themselves to others, struggled to fit in socially, and faced body image issues. As technology has moved much of our social lives online, the way young people interact with others, establish their identities, and navigate peer dynamics has evolved. 

Twenty years ago, kids might not know if friends hung out without them. Now, with social media, they can easily find out — and see who else was invited.

While apps like Instagram or Snapchat can be fun, they can also cause stress. One big reason is that people often only post the best parts of their lives. This can make others feel like they're missing out, or that their own lives aren't as great. The pressure to get likes, to look a certain way, or to have as glamorous a life as an internet celebrity can create unattainable standards that kids measure themselves against.

The dark side of online interactions includes cyberbullying, where the anonymity of the internet can embolden negative behavior, subjecting young people to negative comments, rumors, or even coordinated attacks. 

Plus, the feeling that kids need to always reply or stay updated can be overwhelming. Seeing too much negative news or feeling alone, even when chatting online, can add to these feelings. 

As we navigate this digital age, understanding these dynamics is crucial for supporting our youth.

Impacts of social media: What to watch for

Here are some red flags that your child may be suffering from social media-related anxiety: 

Excessive use 

Nicole Baker, assistant professor of psychology at Franklin Pierce University, cites the constant refreshing and checking of social media profiles as a clear sign of social media-related anxiety. 

FOMO 

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is a phenomenon often associated with social media and one that can lead to anxiety. Kids might express anxiety about being excluded or they may perceive their lives as less exciting than others, which can further lead to negative thoughts.

Perfectionism

Does your child agonize over the perfect selfie, or insist that they only post photos showing their life in the most flattering way possible? Baker says that this type of online perfectionism “may indicate or even precede social media-related anxiety.” 

Sudden and extreme behavior changes

Besides behaviors tied to social media, parents should also watch for sudden and extreme behavior changes that are typically linked to mental health issues.

These warning signs include: 

  • Social withdrawal
  • Aggression 
  • Changes in sleep and eating patterns
  • Suicidal thoughts  

How to support your child through social media anxiety

If you suspect your child is suffering from social media-related anxiety, here are some tips to help them through it: 

Acknowledge the significance of social media in their lives

While social media might seem trivial to you, it's a significant aspect of your child's social life. By acknowledging its importance without dismissing it, you create an open dialogue, allowing you to encourage reflection and critical thinking about online content.

Set clear boundaries

Creating screen time limits and tech-free zones gives your child respite from things that trigger their anxiety and helps them maintain a healthy balance between their digital and offline lives.

Utilize social media settings

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A constant stream of social media notifications can cause anxiety, so disabling alerts and setting time limits on apps can help. 

Shift the focus

Motivate your child to use their online time for creative activities like making memes or designing games. This mindset shifts the focus away from constant social comparison and promotes a sense of accomplishment. 

Encourage offline activities

“Encouraging involvement in offline hobbies and activities that nurture their unique skills and boost self-esteem acts as a protective measure against social media-related stress,” Baker says.

Don’t be afraid to seek help

If your child's anxiety is interfering with their daily life, consider seeking a mental health professional for them to speak with. A counselor or psychologist can help your child work through their anxiety and develop skills to help them cope. 

Stay connected to their online activity

You can’t manage what you don’t monitor. Have regular conversations with your child about their internet use and how their social media feeds make them feel. Talk to your child about how social media algorithms work and how they can tailor their feeds to better suit their interests. 

Consider using a parental monitoring tool like BrightCanary, which uses AI to alert you if your child encounters anything concerning. You’ll also be able to keep track of their activity on Google, YouTube, and social media, so you can step in when they need extra support.

In short

Social media can contribute to anxiety in kids. Parents should be on the lookout for warning signs and take steps if they suspect their child is suffering from anxiety.  

Learn more about how BrightCanary works, and subscribe to our parenting newsletter for weekly tips and resources.

Closeup of Instagram app on phone

Instagram is one of the most popular social media platforms for teens. But between Reels, Stories, and direct messages, it can be difficult to keep track of the ins and outs of this platform. To help you sort it all out, we’ve created this handy guide for parents — plus everything you need to know about how to set up parental controls on Instagram. 

What is Instagram? 

Instagram is a platform for sharing photos and videos. Users can post content, follow other accounts, and message with users. 

Besides their feed, which shows photos and videos posted by people they follow, there are several other ways users can interact with Instagram: 

Reels: Reels are short videos, similar to the video format for TikTok, that play in a user’s feed.

Stories: Stories are short videos and photos which are separate from a person’s main feed. Unlike posts and Reels, Stories disappear after 24 hours. 

Direct Messages (DMs): DMs are private messages that can be sent to one or more individuals. Users can send DMs whether or not they follow each other.

Vanish Mode: This feature allows users to send timed messages that can only be viewed once before they disappear. 

When can kids use Instagram? 

Officially, users must be 13 to use Instagram. But the platform doesn’t have an age-verification process, so kids can easily get around this by fibbing their birthdate. 

Because of some of the risks associated with Instagram, Common Sense Media rates it for ages 15 and up.

What are the risks of letting my kid use Instagram? 

Young people face the following risks on Instagram:

Negative body image: The visual nature of Instagram means it’s easy for kids to become preoccupied with body image. Like other social networks, Instagram is a highlight reel. If the people your child follows only tend to post the most appealing parts of their lives and their bodies, it’s relatively easy for children to fall into a comparison trap and feel less satisfied with their bodies.

Mental health issues: Anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem have been linked to visual-based social platforms such as Instagram. 

Predators: Because it’s possible for users to message people they aren’t following, your child may be targeted by a predator. In the Privacy section of Settings, you can turn on “hide message requests.” This filters potentially offensive messages into a hidden folder. However, predators usually start with seemingly innocent interactions, so filters may not catch their attempts.

Exposure to mature/harmful content: It’s possible your child will see violent or sexual content on Instagram. While Instagram tries to limit posts that promote suicide, self-harm, and eating disorders, users often employ code words to circumvent filters.

(Parents, you can reset your child’s algorithm to limit their exposure to negative content.)

How to set up parental controls on instagram

Through the Family Center, parents can get updates on who their child follows and who follows them. Parents can also receive notifications if their child reports a user and set time limits on app use. In addition, they can see their child’s privacy, messaging, and sensitive content settings, and be alerted if their kid changes these settings. 

To use Family Center, you’ll need an Instagram account. From the Instagram app, tap your profile picture, then tap Settings and privacy from the menu in the top right. Go to “For families,” then set up “Supervision” and follow the prompts.

For detailed instructions on how to set up parental controls on instagram, see Instagram’s guide to parental supervision

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Is your kid easily distracted by Instagram notifications? Quiet Mode—a new feature under Instagram settings—might help. Let's discuss. #digitalparenting #techsmart #screentime #parenting

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How do I keep my child safe on Instagram? 

In addition to the parental controls above, here are steps you can take to keep your child safe on Instagram: 

Review your child’s Instagram settings

Here are the main privacy settings to look at: 

  • Private account: Toggling your child’s account to private means only people they approve can follow them. 
  • Comment control: Users can limit comments to followers, block comments from specific people, hide offensive comments, and set filters for certain words and phrases.
  • Story sharing: Turning this off means people can’t send your child’s stories to another user.  

Follow your child 

Following your child and viewing their posts is a great way to keep tabs on their activity. 

Look at your child’s Instagram together

Open communication is vital for keeping your child safe online. Regularly sit with your kid and view their feed and messages together. This is a great time to discuss how social media algorithms work and how your child can “train” their algorithm to show them the content they actually want to see. 

Use a monitoring service

A monitoring service like BrightCanary uses AI technology to scan your child’s social media activity and alert you to anything concerning. This allows you to keep tabs on your child while allowing them a level of autonomy.

Important settings if your kid has trouble with screen time

To empower your child to set their own time limits, ask them to utilize the Your Activity feature. If they need additional guardrails, you can set screen time limits through Family Center. 

How to protect your child from bullying and harassment on Instagram

Instagram has built-in controls to filter out comments intended to bully or harass, but users can also set filters for terms that may not break Instagram’s rules. 

Comments can be deleted, reported, or turned off altogether on posts. Specific users can also be blocked. Whether or not your child is dealing with cyberbullying, it's a good idea to run through these settings so they're prepared if they ever encounter online harassment.

Summary

Instagram is a popular app that brings with it some risks for kids. Fortunately, there are steps parents can take to keep their child safe on the app.

People using Ask the Canary AI chatbot for parents

Ever run into a tricky parenting situation and wished for anonymous advice tailored to your specific dilemma? 

My mother-in-law tells me of a free parenting hotline back in her day. I’ve often longed for such a service. But that was the ’80s, and this is now. Where are today’s parents supposed to turn? 

Enter Ask the Canary, a free AI chatbot custom-tailored to answer your parenting questions. Read on to find out how Ask the Canary works and how AI and parenting can help support you on your child-rearing journey.

What is an AI chatbot? 

Ask the Canary is powered by large language model (LLM) algorithms, which scrape the internet to generate answers to your questions. 

Think of the way you typically seek out information on the internet: You probably open Google, type in your question, then click through article after article, skimming to find a few nuggets of useful wisdom. 

LLMs essentially do the same thing. But instead of searching a handful of articles, they scour the entire internet. Then, they collate the information and summarize it for you. All of this happens in a matter of seconds. 

Arguably the most well-known AI chatbot of the moment is ChatGPT. Ask the Canary functions in a similar manner. The big difference is that Ask the Canary is programmed to only answer questions related to parenting. 

That means your answers will be targeted, and you won’t have to wade through any off-topic responses. 

How can Ask the Canary AI help me with parenting?

@bright_canary

The internet's anonymity means that it's pretty likely your kid will encounter a mean comment online. That doesn't make it hurt any less. 🥲 How do you handle this situation with your kiddo? We used Ask the Canary AI for some thought-starters. 🐤🤖 Ask the Canary AI is free to use in the BrightCanary app — find us in the App Store!

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Say your tween watched a violent video online, or you discovered your teen sexting a classmate. Naturally, you’ll wonder how best to tackle these difficult conversations with your child. 

You may not feel comfortable bringing it to the mommy mafia text thread. Or maybe you’ve asked your friends, but you also want to draw on a wider pool of resources. 

That’s where Ask the Canary can help. It’s a judgment-free resource designed to guide you through tough parenting moments. Ask the Canary provides you with the language you need to discuss tricky topics with your kids. 

Even better: You can ask the chatbot anything, directly from your phone. All you need is the BrightCanary app.

How do I get Ask the Canary?

Ask the Canary can be accessed on your iOS device through the BrightCanary app. 

Simply download the Bright Canary app for free from the App Store, open it on your phone, and select More from the menu bar along the bottom. 

You’ll see four options pop up. Click on Ask the Canary and start typing in your questions. It’s really that easy. 

Do I need to set up an account to use Ask the Canary? 

You don’t have to set up a BrightCanary account to use Ask the Canary. 

BrightCanary is a parental monitoring app that allows you to supervise your child’s activities on Google, YouTube, and social media. It’s a great complement to resources you’ll find with Ask the Canary. 

If you’re interested in finding out more about how BrightCanary works, you can learn more here

Is Ask the Canary anonymous and secure?

It can be hard to ask for help sometimes. That’s why we’ve made Ask the Canary totally secure and anonymous, so you can feel comfortable bringing it your most difficult parenting problems. 

AI and parenting: Sample Ask the Canary prompts

Here are some sample prompts to get you started: 

  • My child is getting bullied online, what should I do?
  • How can I talk to my teen about staying safe online? 
  • Is TikTok safe for kids? 
  • I found concerning texts on my teen’s phone, what should I do? (Note, Ask the Canary won’t answer questions like “who is my child texting.”) 

In short

Ask the Canary is an AI chatbot designed to help answer your difficult parenting questions in a free, secure, and anonymous platform. Find it in the BrightCanary app and get the conversation-starters you've always wanted.

Forget when to let your child start dating — when to let them start using social media is the new debate for modern parenting. It’s an important decision, but knowing when the time is right can be daunting. So, how young is too young to use social media? Read on for helpful tips to guide you through.

Pros and cons of social media for kids

Social media is a double-edged sword. Here are some benefits and drawbacks to consider:

Pros

  • Friendship and support: There’s a tendency to think of relationships formed on social media as superficial and less valuable. But research has shown that youth can and do form close, meaningful friendships online. Those relationships can be a vital source of support for kids.
  • Identity affirmation: Social media can be a lifeline for kids with marginalized identities — including racial, ethnic, sexual and gender minorities, and disabilities. Exposure to peers and adult role models who share their identity goes a long way toward helping marginalized youth feel less alone. In addition, friendships formed online with peers who understand what they’re going through can help kids maneuver adversity.
  • Diversity: Social media allows users to interact with a diverse peer group, exposing them to a broad range of people and ideas. This exposure is a valuable way to develop empathy for people from different backgrounds.
  • Learning to become a good digital citizen: While you have a say on when, if, and how your child uses social media, that won’t always be the case. Soon enough, they’ll be an adult navigating an increasingly digital world. There’s value in letting them learn the ropes while they’re still under your supervision and you can guide them through any potential missteps.  

Cons

  • Exposure to risky behavior: Studies show that exposure to risky behavior in media, such as alcohol and tobacco use, is associated with adolescents taking up those behaviors. (That’s why TV and movies are sometimes referred to as “superpeers.”) Increasingly, evidence suggests that this effect is equally strong on social media.
  • Increased reach of advertising: Ad targeting means your child is likely to be flooded with marketing aimed squarely at their demographic. While traditional media such as TV is governed by laws that protect kids from exposure to alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana advertisements, the landscape is much murkier on social media — particularly when it comes to the reach of influencers. What happens if your child’s favorite YouTube star is sponsored by a vaping company? In a 2020 study about e-cigarette brands and influencers, researchers found that 75% of the influencers did not restrict youth access to their promotional content on Instagram.
  • Dangerous trends: You’ve probably heard about the rise in dangerous viral trends. (Tide Pods, anyone?) TikTok in particular has become a home for these risky crazes. While some online trends are harmless, such as dance challenges, others can pose threats to your child’s safety. Kids take part in these trends for clout and online validation, at the risk of injuries, property damage, or even death.
  • Risk of dependency: At puberty, children begin to crave attention from peers. At the same time, their brains haven’t fully developed the ability to inhibit behavior and resist temptation. This makes them especially vulnerable to the pull of social media. In fact, research shows over 50% of teens report at least one symptom of clinical dependency on social media.

What to consider before your child uses social media

As you decide when to let your child use social media, consider both their age and maturity level. 

Age

How young is too young to use social media? Most social media platforms require a user to be at least 13, but not all parents abide by this. Some research indicates that upward of 50% of parents allow their preteen to use some form of social media. (Note that signing up before age 13 requires fibbing.) 

On the other hand, there’s no reason you must let your child open accounts the minute they turn 13. Take into account your child’s individual circumstances and make a decision that feels right to you. If your kid struggles with their peers having social media before they do, check out this helpful guide

Maturity level 

When a child is ready for social media isn’t just a matter of their calendar age. Kids mature at different rates. Be honest with yourself when you consider whether  your child is capable of handling the risks and responsibilities of social media. 

Taking the plunge and letting your child go online

Once you’ve decided it’s time to let your child use social media, it’s worth taking the time to approach the transition thoughtfully. Here are a few points to keep in mind:

It’s not all-or-nothing

While your child might be eager to jump in, signing up for multiple social media platforms at once could be overwhelming. Consider starting with one platform and letting your child adjust to the rules and boundaries you instill around social media use. When they’re ready, they can sign up for another platform in conversation with you.

Not sure how to set up those rules and boundaries? A digital device contract is a great way to set your child up for success and establish clear expectations when they’re ready to start using social media.

Choosing the right platform 

Tweens 

While 13 is the minimum age for most of the major social media sites, there are a few options specifically geared toward younger kids.

  • Kinzoo is an app made for younger kids. It allows for messaging with friends and family and includes interactive games that can be played inside a chat.   
  • Messenger Kids allows you to create an account for your child directly from your own Facebook account. You must approve people before your child can message with them.
  • YouTube Kids is a heavily filtered version of YouTube, with robust parental controls that adjust the allowable content based on the user’s age. 

Teens

There are many social platforms teens may use online, but we’ve covered some of the most common apps or sites below. Use these recommendations as thought-starters if your child wants to sign up for another platform not listed here.

  • YouTube is rated by Common Sense Media as appropriate for ages 13 and up. While plenty of questionable content abounds, in recent years YouTube has rolled out parental controls that allow for tiered levels of access and things like automatic shut off at bedtime. When your child graduates from YouTube Kids, the controls allow for them to gradually transition into the full site.
  • Instagram is best for kids 15 and up due to mature content, access to strangers, and vigorous advertising. Although your child can make their account private and control who they follow, that doesn’t stop the algorithms from dishing up potentially iffy suggested content. It’s also a medium which leans into aspirational lifestyles, which can be harmful to self esteem. 
  • TikTok has many of the same pitfalls as Instagram and is therefore generally suited for ages 15 and up. However, there are more parental controls available, as well as built-in filters for younger users. So, with supervision, it’s possible to create a safer experience for your younger teen.
  • Snapchat is best for older teens. The app’s disappearing texts create a level of secrecy that makes protecting and guiding tweens and younger teens more difficult. It’s also engineered to be highly addictive and can expose kids to mature content if they search for it. There are some parental controls available, but they’re limited. Snapchat is popular among adolescents, which means that your child may feel left out if their friends primarily communicate through Snapchat. If you decide to let your child use it, talk to them about the importance of only accepting messages from people they know in real life, and go through the privacy settings together.

Safety and privacy

As your child embarks on this new phase of digital freedom, consider yourself their guide. Talk to them about digital privacy and what to share (or not) online. Your involvement will not only help keep them safe now, it will set them up for a lifetime of wise online choices. 

Supervision

Following your child’s accounts, regularly looking at their posts together, and using a parental monitoring app like BrightCanary are all great ways to keep an eye on their social media use and help keep them safe.

It’s a good idea to have regular weekly or biweekly check-ins about their social media use, screen time, and how their conversations online make them feel. Look for signs of stress and anxiety in your child’s behavior, which may be exacerbated by social media use.

If you feel strange or intrusive about monitoring your child’s social media use, you should know that the American Psychological Association recommends that parents monitor social media for kids under 15.

You’re not prying. You’re parenting. That involves staying in communication with your child so they can learn healthy coping strategies when they encounter something uncomfortable, understand that social media is a highlight reel and not real life, and (most importantly) learn how and when to step away from social media.

The bottom line

When to let your child start using social media is a big decision, and there are multiple factors to consider. While plenty of opinions and research exist to guide you, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. In the end, you need to do what feels right for you and your child.