It’s still early days, but experts say there are signs a backlash is building.
Melbourne mum Chloe, 37, worries about the time her two tweens spend on social media and gaming. Turns out her 9-year-old daughter shares her concern.
After watching the powerful Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, the child wants her mum to take control of her device.
Now, “she wants me to hide it for her,” Chloe told News.com.au. “She even asked me to find a new hiding place because she knew where it was.”
Laying bare the inner workings of social media, the documentary is raising consciousness among teens as never before.
The hard-hitting program has sparked a global conversation about the dangers of social media, pointing to a steep rise in depression and anxiety among young people and highlighting the ways social platforms track and influence user behaviour.
And there are indications that it is raising consciousness about digital safety in a way that no well-meaning parental chat possibly could.
Another mum told journalists she reluctantly agreed to let her tween daughter get a TikTok account “for the baking videos” – only to look on in horror as the child’s curiosity morphed into compulsion – and heartbreak.
“Within a week she had burst into tears at the dinner table for not being pretty enough — like the girls on TikTok — I took it off straightaway,” she reported.
“It made me realise how sensitive she was and how sensitive she would be in the future for online stuff.”
After the two sat down together to watch The Social Dilemma, the child decided “she didn’t want to be on social media anymore.”
“This is where I really think there will be a backlash as the younger generation are wise to it,” her mum mused.
A growing backlash
“The idea is to help young people become mature users of social media as it’s probably here to stay,” advises clinical psychologist Dr Andrew Fuller. “If you can’t manage that you’re probably better to walk away from it.”
Dr Fuller reports that an increasing number of young people seeing him were choosing to disconnect.
“They are saying ‘it’s not for me’, because they do take on people’s opinions … so they are not going to use it,” he said.
Professor Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University, has also found evidence that kids are turning away from social media. The author of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, led a large-scale survey of 1,500 US teens from May to July, while many households were under quarantine.
“We were surprised that social media, which is more connective, decreased, while passively watching television and videos increased during that same time.
“About half the teens in our survey said they avoided using social media in passive ways such as scrolling through posts endlessly.
Yet nearly 80 percent agreed that social media allowed them to connect with their friends during quarantine, and nearly 60 percent said they used social media to manage their anxiety about the pandemic.
Kids want parental controls?!
Clearly, young people are becoming more discerning about their online behaviour – possibly even more so than their parents.
In a 2018 study, UK-based online safety organisation Internet Matters found the majority of teens were in favour of parental controls. Among kids aged 11-16, nearly seven in 10 said they supported the use of controls on apps and devices to regulate screen-time, block adult content and provide protection from predators.
A third of kids thought they should be at least aged 15 before they go online without any restrictions while a quarter of youngsters (24%) surveyed think that parental controls and restrictions should only be taken away once they are over the age of 17 years.
But research has also found that, while the vast majority of parents are aware of controls, only 4 in 10 are using them.