Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with the CEOs of Facebook, Snapchat, X, Discord, and TikTok caught my attention. The hearing focused on the issue of the accountability and obligations that platforms should assume when hosting content that is harmful, particularly towards minors, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Parents who had lost children to drug overdoses, bullying, and suicide stood behind these CEOs, holding up photos of their now-deceased loved ones. My heart ached for the parents who clearly were unaware of the dangers when they allowed their children on to social media.
I am a parent to a 15 year old girl and 13 year old boy. I have battled the issue of cell phones and social media firsthand. I am not speaking to you as a Mom of toddlers – but rather a parent that is in the middle of the battlefield. This is what is working for me- and the tribe around my kids.
No phones until at least 8th grade. My daughter received her iPhone at 14. I put every limit on it available. We used Bark as well as controlled her access to certain sites with our internet provider. I didn’t shy away from discussing news stories about children being harmed via the internet. That is why I so strongly recommend waiting until they are mature enough to realize some of the dangers. In my opinion, anyone younger than that isn’t fully capable of understanding the risks of the online world. But what do I know? Check out Wait Until 8th for all the data supporting this.
Get in their face. My daughter uses her phone mostly for texting her friends. I am constantly asking her what the convos are about, then checking them for myself. The phone sleeps in my husband and I’s bedroom. I know her passwords. (I was against her having a passcode at first, but I have come to realize that teens have an awful habit of grabbing each other’s phones to use. It’s weird to someone who is 45 years old, but normal for this generation. It’s a strange habit.)
Don’t bury your head in the sand. I had a Mom friend tell me once – “I just don’t understand it so I can’t really say no”. To hell you can’t! Learn about these apps. Learn about their algorithms and how they target kids. Share with them how TikTok in the US is completely different that TikTok in China and discuss it. If you are in a community of families that are on these social media apps, you need to be aware of how they work, period.
$1000 for no social media. I have pledged to hand each of my children $1000 cash upon high school graduation if they stay off TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat. (Facebook is for ‘old people’ according to them – so I didn’t even bother including it.) I got this inspiration from a Mom who did something similar – she paid her son $1800 for 6 years of no social media. I think that if no social media for your kids is as important to you as it is to me, I need to put my money where my mouth is. I am squirreling away a little bit each month so I can be ready in 2027 (and 2029).
Who Is Parenting Your Children?
If you have read this far, you are either cheering me on or calling me a controlling freak. I get it. But I will ask you this one question – if we don’t parent our kids, who will? And your child isn’t the only one without Snapchat. There are plenty of teens that are even opting for flip phones so as to curb their time on social media. If their face is buried in a device, they are missing out on real life.
Parenting isn’t always pretty. It is messy and tearful and hard. Especially teens. But, soon enough, my 15 year old will be an 18 year old. If I only have 3 more years with her under our roof, I would be remiss to turn a blind eye to the dangers of social media. I can tell you, as someone who has navigated parental controls and time limits- these social media companies do not care what your kids see. (This goes for YouTube as well.) Equipped with that knowledge- are you OK letting your kids on these apps? Either way, we need to take an active role when it comes to our children online, period. No one is going to protect your children but you.
Parenting In a Tech World is a Facebook group of parents and experts that help answer questions parents have about technology. I have found this group helpful and terrifying all at the same time.
FBI Community Outreach I recently sat through a very informative presentation from the FBI field office here in Jacksonville and it was eye-opening. The audience was a mix of children and adults, and the FBI made the case for why it is so important to be vigilant online. It was free to have them out to speak to my group. I highly recommend contacting your field office to set up such an event.
1000 Hours Outside Podcast with Sean Killingsworth I heard this podcast in September, and it was a game-changer for me. The title is “Adults Can’t Really Imagine How Bad Kids Feel”. Sean is 20 years old and leading the Reconnect Movement on college campuses.