Online safety insights from teens, parents and experts 

Mia Garlick, Director of Public Policy - Australia, NZ, Pacific Islands – June 3, 2022

Feedback is core to our approach to safety, privacy and wellbeing for young people  and we want to continually innovate by understanding perspectives from outside Meta. As part of this ongoing effort, last month, we undertook our latest round of consultations with teens, parents, and experts in Australia. We did this to reflect on how we can support parents in staying connected with their teens’ online lives, and strengthen teens’ safety and wellbeing while enabling their paths towards digital autonomy; two goals that aren’t always uniform or linear. 

These consultations point to three broad themes, emphasising the need for a dynamic approach to guardian-teen supervision on digital platforms that considers guardian needs alongside teens’ desire for autonomy as they grow older.

1. Self-supervision can be  a foundation for safe and healthy use of social media platforms

Social media platforms play a central role in our daily communication through their messaging functions, especially for teens, who often use it to discuss homework and school and connect with friends and family. This can make it difficult for teens to disengage with social media completely, and setting blanket restrictions such as severe time limitations risks cutting out important channels of communication for them. 

While teens want to have more control over their time online, they also want to learn how to better control what they see, and consider this important for a healthy experience. They see social media as an opportunity to deepen their interests, but find it difficult not to be pulled into the noise of their feeds, which many report includes unwanted content. 

Teens often self-supervise because they are concerned with issues beyond their guardians’ immediate control, like the content and people they may come to interact with. Many teens learn how to do this through peers, and found it difficult to locate helpful resources when they were younger.

Finally, teens want to prove to their guardians they are responsible and can be trusted without forgoing their privacy. As such, collaborative tools can play an important role in supporting the relationship between parents and teens with regards to social media use

2. The role of trusted networks and closed circle supervision for healthy support pathways online 

Both teens and guardians see closed circle supervision of known and trusted support networks  as the best way to get help, and rely on these networks to look out for them and flag suspicious activity. Teen support networks often include friends and peers, older siblings, parents and guardians, authority figures, and platforms. Guardian support networks tend to include other parents, friends and family, extended community, experts and professionals, authority figures, and platforms. Each network provides different levels of support and are often chosen based on the issues at hand.

To equip themselves with healthy support pathways, guardians look to other parents and independent resources for information about how to talk to their teens. Understanding their teens’ online world helps guardians to be more informed and confident to undertake more difficult conversations around social media

3. Fostering teen autonomy can be achieved through defining boundaries for safe use together

Guardians see that social media use is a concern once it begins to affect their teens’ engagement in everyday activities and responsibilities. Teens want to seek help in finding the right balance of using safety features that are helpful but don’t diminish their online experience. They are concerned about the repercussions of setting their own safety features: how it might impact their feed, limit who they can interact with, and change their overall experience. There is an opportunity to help them understand the right settings for their desired experience. 

Strengthening the relationship between a parent and teen, and interpersonal dialogue are at the core of effective online supervision. Parents and teens see technology as an enabler to this. With “guardrails” and agreements jointly developed, guardians can take a lighter touch to supervision based on trust and communication, turning to stricter measures if these boundaries are overstepped. 

Feedback from experts: 

We took these insights to a panel of invited experts from a range of youth and online safety organisations, including The Alannah and Madeline Foundation, Butterfly Foundation, Carly Ryan Foundation, headspace, Orygen, ReachOut and eSafety. Their feedback will help us refine these insights further:

  • The conversation around “self-supervision” should be reframed to “empowerment” to distribute the shared responsibility across teens and their support systems such as parents, platforms, and experts. 
  • Creating the ability to identify signals of risk and providing accessible networks of support, such as access to trusted professionals at key intervention points, can enable an ecosystem in which teens can self-supervise.
  • Teens want to have conversations about online autonomy and safety, however guardians often lack the know-how  to facilitate this. Many guardians focus solely on risk or “zero-tolerance” approaches, despite teens’ desires to broaden the conversation. How might we normalise this conversation, and encourage having it early and often?
  • Experts called for a proactive approach to prevention, shifting away from the “stranger danger” narrative to a pragmatic approach that helps teens identify early warning signs and response strategies. 
  • Creating resources for young people by young people is key in providing trusted yet relevant information from sources that teens both empathise and identify with.

The insights from these consultations continue to ground our approach to navigating guardian-teen interactions on our platforms, and help us create the right tools and resources to empower parents and teens to have conversations about healthy social media use. 

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