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Should My Child Have Social Media?

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

One night, when my daughter was 14, I dropped her off at a city park in downtown Chicago. It never occurred to me she could be in danger. The thought that someone would exploit her innocence, steal her childhood, or crush her soul never entered my mind. You see, my perception was that I was giving my girl a new iPhone. Her reality was much different: I dropped the depravity of every city corner into the palm of her hand.

No good parent would intentionally drop their child, especially a vulnerable young girl, off on a city street corner. At night. Alone. And yet, that is exactly how VA Attorney General Jason Miyares describes it when we give our children access to social media apps:

“If you’re a parent, tragically, and if you give your child a smartphone with social media apps and you have no parental controls on that, that is a day that your child’s childhood ends. That’s the day their innocence goes away because the messages and the targeting what happens for our youth… it’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen… whether it’s meta or whether it’s TikTok the reality is, is that you were literally dropping your child off at a city park at 1:00 a.m. in the morning with no parental supervision and a lot of bad actors around there waiting.”

There is no such thing as parental control on social media.

Parental controls are virtually nonexistent. Platforms that actually do have parental control features, are not robust enough or in the tiniest bit user-friendly. (For the latest on using parental controls, check out Plugged In’s guide.)

As difficult as it is for parents to effectively monitor or limit their children’s social media use, the bottom line is that we can’t control the algorithms. These algorithms are designed to captivate our attention and keep us on the platform. There’s no app to control the platforms’ algorithms’ ability to target our children or make it possible for them to be exploited.

Shaping a Generation’s Mental Health

In spite of the mental health social contagions plaguing our children, or the fact that one in three teenage girls have had suicidal thoughts, tech giants refuse to acknowledge their roles in shaping a generation’s mental health crisis.

Mark Zuckerberg recently told Congress:

“Mental health is a complex issue and the existing body of scientific work has not shown a causal link between using social media and young people having worse mental health outcomes.”

So they continue to create algorithms to draw children in. (Yes, adults too.)

How Social Media Targets and Draws in Children

Content Creation: Platforms like TikTok encourages children to become content creators, which leads to sharing too much personal information making them vulnerable to bullies and predators. Getting discovered, or becoming “TikTok famous” can easily become the misguided center of a teen’s life.

Exploitation of Child Psychology: Social media companies understand child psychology very well. They use it to their advantage by designing the features to captivate young users. Most use reward mechanisms (likes, comments, shares), which create an environment that leads to validation-seeking behavior.

Influencer Partnerships: Companies partner with popular influencers to increase engagement with children and teens.

Despite knowing the risks to kids (aside from mental health issues), even more so than most parents, social media companies have yet to implement safety measures that protect children from harm. Instead, they use data collection, which includes children, to draw them in. The data they collect is solely for profit not protection.

And they are wildly successful.

  • 45% of 10, 11, or 12-year-old children in America have an Instagram or TikTok account.
  • 58% of teens are on TikTok daily. Of those, the Teens, Social Media and Technology 2023 research confirms what parents suspect: 17% say they are on TikTok almost constantly.

Social Media’s Unavoidable Impact:

  • Exposure to harmful content on social media platforms can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
  • The addictive nature of social media can result in reduced face-to-face interactions, impacting or impairing social skills and emotional development.
  • Social media creates a pressure to maintain an online persona. It leads children (and some adults) believe they need validation through likes and comments.

Today, handing a 14-year-old a smartphone with access to social media is more dangerous than we ever could have imagined in 2011. In fact, I think it’s safe to say most parents today still can’t quite equate Facebook, Instagram, Snap, or TikTok to a dark city street corner. Mainly because that’s not been their experience.

Are you willing to wait until it is?

Proverbs 4:23 Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.

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