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Meta Announces New Content Restrictions for Teens

By Rebecca Paredes
January 17, 2024
New Instagram parental controls for teens

Welcome to Parent Pixels, a parenting newsletter filled with practical advice, news, and resources to support you and your kids in the digital age. This week:

  • Meta will restrict the types of content that teen users can see on Facebook and Instagram in an effort to create age-appropriate experiences.
  • We share tips on what to do if you catch your child looking at inappropriate material. Plus, did you know that strangers can easily talk to your child on YouTube? We discuss the ways kids might open themselves up to conversations with people they don’t know.
  • States are rolling out new online safety bills for legislative consideration in 2024.

Digital Parenting

Meta rolls out new protections for teens on Instagram and Facebook

In light of mounting claims that companies aren’t doing enough to protect the mental well-being of young people, Meta recently announced that it will restrict the type of content that teenagers can see on Facebook and Instagram. 

The updated settings are designed to “give teens more age-appropriate experiences on our apps.” Meta will default all teen users to the most restrictive content settings, which make it more difficult for people to come across potentially sensitive content or accounts. Teens will receive a prompt to update their privacy settings and restrict who can contact them. Meta will also prevent teen users from seeing content that references self-harm, eating disorders, or nudity, even from people they follow. 

In October, a bipartisan group of 42 attorneys general announced that they’re suing Meta, alleging that the company’s products are hurting teenagers and contributing to mental health problems. New York Attorney General Letitia James said, “Meta has profited from children’s pain by intentionally designing its platforms with manipulative features that make children addicted to their platforms while lowering their self-esteem.”

In November, Meta whistleblower Arturo Bejar told lawmakers that the company was aware of the harm its products cause young users, but failed to fix the problems. Meta and other tech companies are incentivized to keep young users on their platforms — a recent study found that social media platforms (including Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube) generated $11 billion in advertising revenue from U.S. users younger than 18 in 2022 alone. 

Our take: Even before this announcement, Meta already had protections in place for younger users. (We’re fans of Instagram’s Family Center.) However, many parents aren’t aware of these features, and it makes a lot of sense to automatically implement protections that are developed in alignment with experts in adolescent development. While we wish those protections were instituted sooner (before everyone started suing Meta), we’re still calling this a win. 

At the same time, the success of these features depends on two things: whether or not your child listed their age correctly in their account, and the level of supervision parents have over their children’s accounts. If your child created their own online account, double-check that they’ve listed their age correctly.

And if you don’t already have a parental monitoring practice in place, now’s the time to start. We always suggest having regular tech check-ins with your kids to go through their phone together, creating space to discuss internet safety issues, and using a monitoring tool like BrightCanary to get alerts if your child encounters anything inappropriate.

Practical Parenting Tips

Your child was caught looking at explicit content: What do you do?

So, you found out that your kid saw something definitely meant for adults. Don’t panic! Here’s how to talk to kids about inappropriate content they may encounter online.

How strangers might talk to your kid on YouTube

Platforms that allow users to interact are prime places for predators to solicit kids. From YouTube comments to linked social accounts, there are still several ways strangers can talk to your kids that parents should know.

What’s Catching Our Eye

⚖️ The Washington Post covers the states looking to pass online safety bills in 2024, including California, Minnesota, Maryland, and New Mexico. In Florida, a bill that could ban minors from using social media is up for legislative consideration today.

📱 A new study says that almost half of British teens feel addicted to social media. Out of 7,000 respondents, 48% said they agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “I think I am addicted to social media.” A higher proportion of girls agreed compared to boys (57% vs. 37%). 

📖 How is growing up in public shaping kids’ self-esteem and identity? Pamela B. Rutledge, Ph.D., discusses how parents should actively engage with kids' digital activities as guides, not intruders or spies. She also reviews Devorah Heitner's new book about kids coming of age in a digital world: Growing Up in Public.

Parent Pixels is a biweekly newsletter filled with practical advice, news, and resources to support you and your kids in the digital age. Want this newsletter delivered to your inbox a day early? Subscribe here.