Dubai: Instagram’s recent introduction of a new suite of tools for parental control over their teenage children’s use of the social media platform in the Middle East has sparked a raging debate on the need for extensive adult supervision vis-à-vis responsible behaviour by the youngsters and their protection of privacy.
As teens transition into adults, many are clear, brazen even, about keeping their parents out of their Insta friends’ circle, almost as if it is the norm. So just how are they viewing the new tools which allow their parents, amongst other things, to supervise their account by seeking an “invitation”, see how much time they spend on Instagram each day, even set daily limits, schedule breaks and monitor who they are following and who is following them. And what are the parents saying?
But first, why did Instagram launch the tools in the first place?
Striking a balance
Nadia Diab Caceres, Head of Instagram Public Policy MENA, told Gulf News, “The newly launched supervision tools have been developed over time in consultation with experts, parents and teens to help make sure we’re striking the right balance between involving parents and making sure teens still have autonomy and privacy.
"We had already built on these tools since their initial pilot launch in the US in March and will continue to add new features.”
What constitutes the right balance?
“Well, let me put it this way; if there is anything that gives an adult more access to a teenager’s activities (online or offline), they will take it as a breach of privacy,” said Varuna Mehta Jagwani, Founder and Consultant at Light Digital, a digital marketing company in Dubai. “However, we can’t deny that the digital landscape is increasingly giving teenagers free access to content that may not be appropriate or even too graphic for their impressionable age. With the new tool that Instagram has introduced, parents can supervise their teenagers’ screen time on the app, and that is just a start. Most importantly, it creates an opportunity for parents and kids to join hands to combat online issues.”
Giving an example, she said if a teenager reports a post or an account, the parents can get more information about the incident to take appropriate action.
Giving an example, she said if a teenager reports a post or an account, the parents can get more information about the incident to take appropriate action. “But let’s also not forget that Meta has not discounted taking teenage opinions in this matter; the new tool does not override anything on their account. It helps parents request to supervise their online activities, so effectively, the control is still with the teenagers.”
For teenagers like Kyla Munro, 17, a Year 13 student in a British curriculum school in Dubai, it’s all about self-control.
“Parents in essence shouldn’t let phones control their child’s life. I want to believe that we, as a society, have been taught the art of self-control and can use initiative to know when to turn off the phone when we feel we should stop scrolling rather than being monitored and given scheduled break-times by something or someone other than the user themselves,” she said.
Thomas, a 15-year-old in an Indian curriculum school in Oud Metha, completely agrees. “I am big enough to tell right from wrong, and I don’t understand why parents should be constantly fearful and checking on our online activity. Even when I am doing project work late into the night sometimes, my dad makes it a point to come and see if I am up to something I shouldn’t be on social media.”
Not all teens feel that way. At another British curriculum school in Motor City, Diaco Taaeb, a Year 8 student, said, “The new protective mechanism would prove useful for teenagers who need extra protection from adults as a result of the technological advances in our society. I think Instagram has done a fantastic job in balancing out the positives that the internet can bring, and also the negatives.”
Syeda Eaman Hussein, a Year 11 student from the same school, added: “The advancements in technology have made social media more prominent than ever, especially for teenagers.
Issue of trust and privacy
The issue of trust and privacy appear to be at the crux of the debate. According to Tarja Yilmaz, the mother of a 15-year-old girl in Dubai, “Giving the teenagers privacy is part of allowing them to grow wings and learn independence. A parent knows their child well in most of the cases. An upper secondary teenager should have the maturity to know right and wrong. We teach privacy issues and make strict settings on social media. At the end of the day, social media is part and parcel how we all connect these days and stay in touch.
“My child will be considered legally an adult at 18, and can vote in three years’ time in our home country Finland, so I feel it is time to slowly give her more independence. Allowing privacy in terms of how they connect is part of it.”
Official age limit
Instagram can be officially used by those who are 13 years and above and many feel there is a genuine need for a mature conversation between parents and children on the dos and don’ts and where one must draw a line.
As Liesell Vaz, chair of GEMS FirstPoint School Parent Council, pointed out, “It’s important to protect and educate our young children about social media. The step that Instagram has taken is a great initiative to allow parents to be better informed about our kids’ online activities so we can advise accordingly and protect them from online dangers. I sincerely hope other popular social media apps follow this lead.
As a parent, I greatly value the use of monitoring and engagement features on social media apps used by children.”
Reem Anthoun, another parent in Dubai, claims her daughters, one of whom is 17, are able to balance things out. “They know when to say ‘enough’ when they are on various platforms. I don’t know whether that is down to parenting style, or their personalities, but I do believe that these issues start in the household as a collective.
"I don’t think social media platforms should be taking this into their own hands but rather individuals, with support of families and parents, should make their own choices and decisions about what is good or bad.”
Open lines of communication
On their part, schools too are making the new Instagram features a reference point.
David Wade, Principal/CEO of GEMS FirstPoint School at The Villa, who is also a trained CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection) Ambassador in the UK, said, “As educators, we will be able to make a reference to the new Instagram features within our school curriculum and in our parent workshops that address such issues in detail.
"We encourages parents to ‘parent’ children online to the same standards that they would apply in real life. This is critically important in maintaining open lines of communication between teens and parents.”
Similarly, Daniella Aschettino, Secondary Head Teacher, GEMS Metropole– Motor City, said, “The new tools that have been introduced are necessary and have been for some time. Limiting screen-time for teenagers is important, particularly as there was an over-reliance on devices during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Teenagers are especially vulnerable in the social-media world; it is clear that some are addicted to Instagram, with many being negatively affected by its content and misuse. Having these additional measures in place will help ensure teenagers are kept safer online.”