Teens hitting "dislike" on social media

If there's anything teens hate more than a lecture about screen-time, it's being bossed around and having their privacy invaded.  So imagine the shock when they realise that their favourite social media platforms are doing exactly that. 

If you’re the parent of a social-media-fixated teenager - which is to say, a typical teenager - you already know what it’s like trying to pry them loose from their favourite platform. (Think: pulling teeth.) 

You already know the response you can expect when you so much as broach the subject of potential risks to their health and wellbeing. (Think: eye-rolling, smirking, or a condescending, “You just don’t get it, Mum.”) 

No wonder so many mums and dads have given up the fight. It’s not just that most of us really do know less about the digital world than our kids do.

Telling your teen anything about anything can be a tough call. But when they hear the same message from another source - one they trust, because, well, it isn’t you - young people are capable of learning fast. 

Psychologists tell us that teens are developmentally hard-wired to reject the wisdom of their elders. That’s how they learn to “individuate” - to separate themselves from the family unit and strike out on the path to adulthood.

So telling your teen anything about anything can be a tough call. But when they hear the same message from another source - one they trust, because, well, it isn’t you - young people are capable of learning fast. 

Experts say that’s exactly what they’re witnessing in reaction to the explosive Netflix expose The Social Dilemma - a new documentary that presents a dossier of damning evidence that Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and the like are pulling users’ strings - and breaching their privacy - in the quest for profit.


What makes the film’s message even more compelling is that it is delivered by the tech-savviest men and women on the planet: the co-creators of platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and others. These people not only “get it” - they built it.

And they are very upfront about their concerns: that “addictiveness” has been consciously built in; that every post and every reaction users make online is tracked, logged and harnessed to fuel the engine of greater engagement; that “privacy” is impossible, no matter what your settings; that the true business of social media is not simply the mining and on-selling of users’ personal information - but the control of their behaviour to drive profits.

Then there’s the massive spike in depression, anxiety, self-harm among Gen Z kids - many of whom have been on social media since childhood. US figures show hospital admissions for self-harm among pre-teen girls has risen nearly 200% since 2013, while suicide rates have increased by 150%. 

For all of these reasons, industry insiders - the people who literally invented social media - severely restrict their own children’s use, or ban it entirely.

It’s a hard-hitting message that appears to be getting through to teens, according to a report in The Age last weekend.

"It was just scary… these apps are on my phone and I use them daily. It just makes you want to stop and throw your phone in the bin, it's so eye-opening."

One Year Ten who watched the doco with her family, admitted, "I had to pause it a couple of times to really just take in the information I had never heard before, especially from these CEOs and corporations who run all these apps.

"It was just scary… these apps are on my phone and I use them daily. It just makes you want to stop and throw your phone in the bin, it's so eye-opening."

But it doesn’t have to be a matter of disconnecting entirely. Another young viewer responded to the doco by unfollowing all “influencers” from her Insta feed, and retaining only those accounts with genuine artistic or creative content.

This “confused the algorithm,” she found - so now, instead of targeted ads, the platform suggests mainly aspiring young artists.  

Social media, she has learned, has two faces. The first is as “a really amazing virtual place that’s filled with acceptance” and inspiration. 

"But the other is this breeding zone full of self-destructive energy and hate and … really toxic, unreachable standards."


Dr. Lauren Rosewarne, a Melbourne University lecturer and the author of two books on social media, is skeptical that revelations like those in The Social Dilemma will lead droves of teens to abandon their favourite platforms.

A more realistic goal, she suggests, is to raise consciousness about how and why we use social media. 

"What we need to do culturally is think about how do we become more savvy users and how do we control the tech we use rather than letting it control us," she said.


Main image: Netflix/thesocialdilemma.com


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Topics: Cyber Bullying, Parental Controls, Screen time, Mobile Apps, Cyber Safety, snapchat, instagram, Social Media, facebook, self-harm, phone addiction

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