How to Reset Your Child’s Social Media Algorithm

By Andrea 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. 

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