Instagram proposes parental restrictions for teens

Shrija Shandilya | The Chronicle

In the golden age of social media, its creators now want to confine it.

In November 2023, the parent company to Instagram, Meta, called on lawmakers to pass a policy restricting young children on social media without parental approval. In the months prior to this, a bipartisan coalition of 33 attorney generals led a lawsuit against the company’s alleged negative impacts on youth mental health.

With more than 75% of parents in agreement, Instagram said they “support federal legislation to put parents in charge of teen app downloads.” Meta’s proposed policy requires children under 16 to get parental approval before downloading Instagram. 

Visual by Alisha Verma

Mason High School (MHS) senior Lauren Smith said she supports the proposed policy restricting young children from social media so they can experience childhood better.

“We’ve already seen the bad impacts happening to the new generation of kids that have been raised from the start with technology in their hands,” Smith said. “When you’re raised with constant stimulation, it’s bad for your attention span.”

Smith said this policy is important to implement because of how impressionable young children are and the behaviors they develop because of what they see on social media.

“Kids are constantly soaking up information and they mirror what they see,” Smith said. “I’ve noticed my younger siblings are picking up behaviors they’ve seen on shows rather than their parents, which I think isn’t useful in the real world.”

Smith said that because she moderates her social media and phone use, she lives a healthier lifestyle and does not find herself comparing herself to others.

“I feel a lot more confident in myself because we aren’t meant to have so much information and see so many other people in a short span of time,” Smith said. “I just feel more accomplished.”

She said the policy is a step in the right direction because people lack accountability in limiting social media even when they know prolonged use is not good for them.

“The first step is acknowledging that there is a problem and that’s often hard for people,” Smith said. “Everyone knows social media is bad for you but no one takes action because they’re used to it and they’re comfortable.”

In addition to policy, Smith said there needs to be more education to parents surrounding social media as it has changed drastically and continues to evolve.

“Another important part of [the policy] would be educating parents because a lot of them didn’t grow up with it,” Smith said. “They don’t have that firsthand experience and they might allow their kids to have it without really knowing the impacts.”

Sophomore Sahana Srikanth said that while this policy would be effective, it could also encourage kids to go behind their parents’ backs.

“If people are really interested in getting an app that they know their parents aren’t going to approve of, they will find a way to still get it,” Srikanth said. “It would probably lead to more of the behavior they don’t want to happen.”

Srikanth said that one of the biggest problems with children being on social media is the addictiveness of algorithms and how they lure in children.

“It’s hard to get on the right side of the internet because the way the program filters content is having you repeatedly click on the same information that then gets pushed to you more,” Srikanth said.

MHS School Psychologist Jeff Schlaeger has two varying standpoints on the policy and its implications. He said he thinks social media is an important tool for everyone as we are in an ever changing society, but on the other hand, Schlaeger also said that at some point this tool needs to be monitored and limited.

“Everyday there are some new ways to communicate and I think it’s important for people to have the tool and understand it,” Schlaeger said. “But it’s a concern because it’s just overloading your brain.”

Schlaeger said that in addition to parental approval, there should be greater content moderation, especially for younger children.

“Even a minute of being exposed to the wrong thing at a young age could be incredibly damaging,” Schlaeger said. “It’s like flipping through TV channels now and young children could easily come across bad content.”

While Instagram’s new proposed policy requires that children get parental approval, Schlaeger said parents need to be more informed about the use of social media in a more effective manner for this policy to be impactful. 

“Trying to get parents in the conversation at earlier ages, even elementary schools, would help parents make that decision,” Schlaeger said. “Not just telling parents in a form or paper but really making an effort.”

Schlaeger said it is worrying how children are increasingly interested in social media and missing out on real experiences.

“I’ll take a friend’s kid somewhere and on their phone the whole car ride,” Schlaeger said. “They don’t take in nature or even understand how we got from here to there.”

To enforce spending less time on her phone, Smith switched her phone to a black and white filter and deleted certain apps that could be distracting. She said when considering policies like this one, the most important thing is being aware of the effects of social media.

“I can look up at the world and it’s much more colorful than my phone,” Smith said. “I want to be more interested in the real world than I am in social media.”