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New Instagram feature allows parents to monitor their children's activities, limit screen time on app

SINGAPORE — To protect teenagers from online harms on Instagram, parents will from Friday (Sept 16) be able to use a new feature to monitor their children’s activities on the social media platform and limit their screen time, provided the children agree.

Instagram's parent company Meta said the new Family Centre feature is “going to complement a lot of conversations that are happening today in many families".

Instagram's parent company Meta said the new Family Centre feature is “going to complement a lot of conversations that are happening today in many families".

  • A new feature, called Family Centre, will be available starting Sept 16 on social media platform Instagram
  • The feature will allow parents to monitor their children’s Instagram activities and limit their screen time
  • However, parenting and media experts said that such a new feature can only act as a tool to enable better parent-child communication
  • Ultimately, trust has to be present for the new feature to be effective

SINGAPORE — To protect teenagers from online harms on Instagram, parents will from Friday (Sept 16) be able to use a new feature to monitor their children’s activities on the social media platform and limit their screen time, provided the children agree.

Announcing this on Thursday, Instagram's parent company Meta said that the new Family Centre feature is “going to complement a lot of conversations that are happening today in many families".

Mr Philip Chua, Meta's head of Instagram public policy for Asia Pacific, said: "We hope that with this amount of information that is available in the Family Centre… The parent will find it easier to kickstart such conversations.”

However, parenting and media experts who spoke at a panel discussion following the launch noted that such a new feature can only act as a tool to enable better parent-child communication and ultimately, an element of trust has to be present for the new feature to be effective. 

Instagram's current regulations allow only individuals 13 and above to create an account, with age verification done during account registration.

Family Centre will help parents and guardians manage their children’s screen time on the app, by allowing the adults to set screen time limits and breaks for the young users throughout the day or week. 

Parents will also receive weekly notifications about who their children is following or who has followed their children.  

Parents can also be notified about reports of abusive content or spam made by their child, and this specific feature will appear as an option for teenagers every time they make a report.

This new feature will require the consent of both parties and can be initiated by either the parent or the child.

It will allow parents or guardians to monitor several of their child’s accounts at the same time, but the child can be monitored only by one person at a time. 

Mr Chua said that the feature was designed after nine months of consultations with experts, parents, guardians and teenagers around the world. 

He said that the teenagers who were consulted said that they desired more protection online, but also wanted the autonomy to choose if their parent should be supervising them. 

“There is less acceptance for a very paternalistic approach, there is more desire to be seen as equals,” he said. 

This is why, using this feature, teenage users have to first accept a parent’s request for them to be supervised. 

“There has to be a balance here that respects teens fundamentally so that they can be part of this process,” Mr Chua added.  

Meta’s new feature is one among several moves it has made to improve the safety of teenagers on its platforms. 

For instance, Instagram’s parental guide, which was launched here in February last year, offers parents advice on how to protect their child’s experience on social media while also offering a detailed manual on the different functions they offer in terms of user experience and how they can be used to protect their children.

The Government has also been doing its part in advocating for online safety, with a recent proposal for a code of practice for social media services. 

The move would include having in place community standards and content moderation mechanisms to mitigate users’ exposure to sexual, violent and self-harm content, as well as grant the Government the ability to direct social media companies to disable access to specific content. 

These moves came in the midst of a renewed focus in the past few years on the online harms that minors could face online. 

For instance, a survey done by Sunlight Alliance for Action in January this year found that 47 per cent of the respondents had personally experienced some form of online harm, with respondents aged 15 to 35 forming the majority of that figure. 

NEW FEATURE JUST A TOOL, NOT A SOLUTION

In a panel discussion on Thursday after the feature was introduced to the media, content creator Pamela Lee Nur Shuhadah and Mr Shem Yao, head of parenting at Touch Community services, shared their views on how the feature can help both parents and teenagers. 

Both speakers agreed that there has to be a strong parent-child relationship built upon trust for the feature to be effective in the first place. 

For instance, Ms Lee, 22, said that her close relationship with her mother made it easier for her to communicate and explain the nature of her online job to her. 

“My mum was my first friend on all my social media (accounts). All the way from the start, she was my first friend, so I couldn't hide anything.”

She acknowledged that the Family Centre feature was just a tool to encourage better communication between parents or guardians and their children, rather than a solution, and that “no matter what, the core is to build trust from home”. 

She added that in the wrong hands, the tool might even be harmful for parent-child relationships. 

“If I don't have a good relationship with (my mother) and I let her use this feature on my account, what happens if, after she sees something, she comes at me and says, ‘Why are you looking at this?’

“It goes back to the same issue of ‘I still can't talk to you about things’ because the whole point of having this feature is so that we can have deeper conversations, we can have more meaningful chats about what's going on outside of home,” Ms Lee said. 

The experts also said that parents should not see using this feature as an extra burden to parenting, but as a chance to have meaningful conversations with their children. 

Mr Yao said that social media has made parenting “a bit more complex”, and that a parent’s key responsibility is to be present for their children when they navigate the online space. 

“Parents need to see this as part and parcel of their role… so that we can guide them, especially when they’re younger,” he said. 

“(Parents) need to be able to tell and inculcate in their children (the belief) that mum and dad are always alongside (them), that should something happen, we are there, not to save them, but to say, ‘Hey, I'm here, let's talk’."

Related topics

parenting online harm social media Instagram online safety

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