Recently, Meta announced it would be launching new parental safety controls for teens in the form of tools and resources for both the Instagram social media app and their Meta Quest VR gaming headsets. The goal is to help parents better manage what our teens are seeing when they are using either Instagram or Quest. To which I say a somewhat guarded, Hooray!
As a mom to three almost-adults, I’ve seen alllllll the good, bad, and ugly from social media and gaming — even in spite of my best efforts to pay attention to what my kids are doing. (And my own pretty good understanding of the good and bad and ugly, considering I write for Cool Mom Tech.)
Top photo by Sasun Bughdaryan on Unsplash
I know that it’s an education for parents like me to continually stay on top of what our kids are doing, whether its downloading an adult-rated game without our approval, stewing over unkind DMs from a classmate for weeks, or finding out that FOMO is a very real thing for a 14 year old, All while managing kids’ emotions and helping them build good decision-making skills.
In short, we parents can use all the help we can get in keeping our kids safe on social media.
So, let’s look a little closer at what Meta is doing to (ideally) give us a hand.
New parental safety tools for Instagram from Meta: Our thoughts
- To help parents supervise what our teens are doing on Insta, you can now send a request to your teen to allow for supervision tools to be activated. (Don’t be too surprised if your teen acts like they never saw your request — you may have to send it a few times, ha.)
- Parents can also set specific times of the day or week that you want to limit your teen’s time on Instagram — say during school hours or after 10pm on school days. It may not keep your teen from finding other way to devote countless hours online, but it’s a good option if Instagram is a particular time-suck.
- Parents will be able to get more information on the posts or accounts that your teen reports to Instagram for policy violations, since this might help you discover if there’s any bullying going on, fake accounts requesting follows, misinformation, or any topics or specific users that are making your teen uncomfortable.
(I particularly like this, in part because it may also help you educate a teen on why they can’t just report every account they don’t agree with, even if they really, really hate the Yankees. Sorry, Liz.)
- For teens who tend to get “stuck” aimlessly scrolling through the same topics on Explore, Instagram will now send “nudges” to try and inspire teens to look away from content, say, fitness influencers or a celebrity’s page. It’s been a year since the Wall Street Journal published their scoop from a whistleblower about the damage Instagram can do to the body image of young girls, so I appreciate that these nudges may push teens to try other content if they’re going down an unhealthy rabbit hole.
Of course this will not replace having frequent conversations with our kids about online content, but I still appreciate the effort.
- Finally, I love that Instagram is adding a “Take a Break” feature to their Reels section. Especially since I have been guilty of getting lost watching videos for way too long. WIth this feature, tens must activate Take a Break, which will trigger notifications to pop up after they’ve been viewing videos for a while. Take a Break is designed to encourage kids to put their phones down more, and do something else with their time.
(Boy do I wish TikTok would do this for me!)
Unfortunately, what is not being addressed by Meta are the many kids under the age of 13 who set up Instagram accounts by lying about their birth year — without parents’ permission. (Note: if you allow your tween on Instagram, that’s up to you, so no judgment there.)
Right now, Meta has not yet figured out a way to keep kids under 13 off the app without accidentally penalizing many other people who are legitimately allowed to be there. So as long Instagram isn’t approved for 18+ only — and that will never happen — at least Instagram keeps more sensitive content around sex, violence, drugs, and firearms from being shown.
That said, if your child creates an account pretending to be a 25 year old, all bets are off. Which is why it’s imperative you see what apps your kids are using, set up approvals for app requests from your kids, and overall keep communication lines open with your kids.
Related: Fourteen talks to have before your child turns fourteen, with author Michelle Icard
New parental safety tools and resources for Meta Quest VR headsets: Our thoughts
Gamers using Meta Quest VR headsets will also find a bunch of new parental supervision tools from Meta.
- Using the Parent Dashboard, parents and guardians will be notified about game download attempts, including when kids 13+ try to download a new game rated as too old for them. You will then have the ability to approve or deny the request.
- Parents can also block concerning apps, and review everything that has been previously downloaded, or that is scheduled for download.
- Parents can block Link and Air Link to prevent their teen from accessing content from a PC on their Quest headset. That’s been a big concerning loophole for a lot of parents, and now it’s closed.
- Avid teens gamers may be dismayed to find that parents will be now able to see how much time kids are spending in VR (sorry kids), as well as being able to see all of their Oculus Friends — which is useful if you’ve decided your kids can only play with people they know IRL.
- Meta will also launch a Parent Education Hub and they suggest they will add to it regularly, to help parents discuss virtual reality topics with their teens.
Of course we think objective sources (like, say Cool Mom Picks) are often better resources for parent education, since we have no vested interest in selling people those services. On the other hand, this may be a preemptive way to keep Meta out of legal issues so we’ll wait and see how it goes to pass judgment.
Additional thoughts about Meta’s new safety tools and resources for parents of teens
As a Gen X parent, I really appreciate that Meta is trying to make it easier for us to keep an eye on how our kids are consuming their products. Not because I am some crazed helicopter parent, but because this is all so new — relatively at least — that it’s hard to even know which questions to ask about safety or which things I should be looking out for in the first place. (That’s why our Out Tech Your Kids community is so helpful!)
However, even if you implement every one of these new parental controls or safety tools for Instagram and Quest VR, nothing will replace being open and honest with your kids.
We have written so many articles about how to know when your kids are ready for phones or particular social media networks and websites. We’ve also shared lots of tips for protecting kids online, whether from over use, or other scarier dangers out there. But what it all boils down to is communication.
Make your screen time rules and expectations clear. Let your kids know that they can always come to you if there’s something they see that they don’t like. Allow your kids — yes, even teens — to earn more online freedom as they show they possess the maturity to handle the responsibility. And of course, don’t be afraid to reign it all back in if they mess up.
And, by all means, use these new safety tools and resources from Meta to help your kids build a healthier relationship with both Instagram and Meta Quest. We hope the tools continue to grow more sophisticated and help more parents stay in the loop with our kids and teens.
They may roll their eyes, but we know that in their hearts, they appreciate knowing we have their backs.