BOSTON — Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and attorneys general across the country think long-term having kids on Instagram would do more harm than good.
Right now, you have to be 13 years old to use Instagram, but now parent company Facebook wants to develop a whole new similar site but for those under 13. But is that a good idea?
“I think it’s a complicated question,” said child psychologist Dr. Cheryl Sanders. “It offers creativity and connection and great ideas, but I think on the other hand, I think there was a problem of making sure that we have a secure network.”
It’s not a black or white issue for Dr. Sanders, but the answer is clear for Attorney General Healey and 43 other attorneys general who wrote a letter to Facebook’s CEO.
“Part of my job is to protect young people, […] to protect the well-being, including the social and emotional well-being, of young people, and the studies are really clear about the detrimental effects of the addictive effects of social media,” Healey said. “We’ve got to get a handle on this.”
The bipartisan coalition wrote that Facebook has historically failed to protect children on its platforms, citing 20 million child sexual abuse images in 2020 alone.
“They will get to it one way or another, so responsible access is more of my stance than no access at all,” said Westwood parent Danielle Drayton. “I like the concept, I just wonder how they are going to monitor the content so it is age-appropriate as opposed to everything out in the universe.”
We asked parents when their kids started using social media.
“He was nine, so that’s why I think it’s really good ‘cause I don’t want him to get hurt,” said Westwood parent Karen Cappuccino. “I think it’s a good idea, I really do.”
“There’s never really good age, but I think a child of 13-and-above can really deal with the issues that come up,” Sanders said. “I think children under 13 have a hard time even understanding the issues.”
“The 13-year-old uses Tik Tok,” Drayton said. “I don’t know how I feel about that. It’s OK as long as I understand what he’s doing.”
That’s the key according to Sanders: being in the same room.
“But often what we find is that parents don’t have the time to monitor them,” Sanders said. “They give them the device and send them on their way. It can lower some children’s self-esteem and, with girls especially, they’re often looking at body imaging. Whatever image they see, they may not think they’re good enough.”
“I think the studies show that social media can have really harmful effects on young people and what Facebook is attempting to do through Instagram is something that my colleagues and I, both Democrat and Republican, this is bipartisan, it’s about protecting kids from harmful effects of social media,” Healey said.
“Depression, anxiety, threats of self-harm, these are just some of the many things that are well documented in terms of the impact of social media on young people. It is a problem. It’s something that we need to deal with, we need help from the social media platforms like the Facebooks of the world.”
The letter also cites studies showing growing cyberbullying concerns on the platform.
“As every parent knows, kids are already online. We want to improve this situation by delivering experiences that give parents visibility and control over what their kids are doing. We are developing these experiences in consultation with experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates. We also look forward to working with legislators and regulators, including the nation’s attorneys general. In addition, we commit today to not showing ads in any Instagram experience we develop for people under the age of 13,” wrote a Facebook company spokesperson.
Cox Media Group