Age-appropriate content online: What it means for parents

Rachel F Rodgers, PhD

As a parent, it can be hard to judge whether content may be appropriate for your teen. Indeed, even experts find it hard to draw that line sometimes, and policies from Meta around content that teens see reflect current understandings and expert guidance regarding age-appropriate experiences for teens.

What's new?

In the coming weeks, Facebook and Instagram will be working to restrict more types of content from what teens see. These changes will apply to types of content that might be top of mind for many parents, including categories such as eating disorders, suicide and self-injury, graphic violence and more.

In other words, teens will not be able to find or see certain types of content, even when it's shared by a friend or someone they follow. A teen may not know that they cannot see this content, for example if content created by one of their peers falls in this category.

What guided these decisions?

These new policies are based on three main guiding principles.

  1. A recognition of the developmental stages of adolescents and a goal of providing age-appropriate experiences for youth.
  2. A commitment to a more cautious approach to content that could be sensitive, especially for teens.
  3. The value of encouraging teens to look for information about sensitive topics in appropriate places, or in conversation with their parents.

Adolescence is a time of change, involving the development of social, emotional and cognitive capacities, as well as physical development. Throughout adolescence, youth increase their capacity to critically analyse content and understand the intent of content creators. They also develop skills for emotional regulation and navigating complex relational situations, as well as going through puberty. These developments are progressive over the course of adolescence, meaning that younger and older adolescents may have different preferences, skills and interests.

Minimising content that might be sensitive for teens is an important focus. Some content contains themes that could be less appropriate for young people, based on their age. Also, images are processed partly in ways that are automatic and emotional, and can be more impactful than text for teens, which makes it particularly important for teens to access certain topics through trusted parents or guardians.

How can I talk about this with my teen?

Talk with them about why content might be sensitive:

It can be important for teens to understand why content is not visible to them. For example, explain to them that looking at certain images can potentially be upsetting. While some topics may be OK for them to learn about in general, it's better to learn from resources that are reliable and/or with a trusted parent or guardian who can help provide support.

What if their own or their peers' content is being restricted?

With these policies, teens might not see the type of content that they used to see on friends' profiles, or that a friend says they posted – and that can be an important moment for parents to talk with their teens. For example, if a friend's content about their dieting isn't being shown, that could be a helpful time to talk about eating patterns that could become problematic. Parents are often best placed to help identify that their teen is struggling with eating or body image.

Encourage them to still be savvy about content that IS available to them:

Policies from Meta aim to restrict teens from seeing content that could be sensitive. However, teens should still apply digital literacy skills when using social media. For example, they may still see content related to someone's recovery from an eating disorder, which your teen may have questions about. Help your teen to navigate this by having a conversation.

  • Ask your child what they thought of their friend's recovery.
  • Does their appearance change them as a person?

Meta is evolving its policies around content that could be more sensitive for teens, which is an important step in making social media platforms spaces where teens can connect and be creative in age-appropriate ways. As these changes unfold, they provide a good opportunity to check in and talk with your teen about how to navigate difficult topics.

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