Instagram adds parental controls for the first time

The parental controls for Instagram and Meta’s other services will live inside a new website called the Family Center
The parental controls for Instagram and Meta’s other services will live inside a new website called the Family Center


Tools will let parents track time teens spend on apps and see which accounts they follow; Meta is also introducing controls for Quest VR

Instagram on Wednesday started rolling out parental controls for its app for the first time. Parent company Meta Platforms Inc. will soon also let guardians supervise teens’ activity in virtual reality.

The first three Instagram parental-supervision tools—available Wednesday in the U.S. before arriving globally in the coming months—will let parents see how much time their teens spend on Instagram and set limits. Parents can view what accounts their teens follow, as well as who follows them. It also lets teens notify their parents when they report inappropriate behavior. The company plans eventually to make the tools available on its other platforms, such as Facebook.

The company doesn’t give parents any details about what their teens look at or what they discuss via direct message. And because the controls are applied on a per-account basis, they don’t prevent teens from having secret accounts, known as “finstas."

The parental controls for Instagram and Meta’s other services will live inside a new website called the Family Center. Along with supervision tools, the hub will include educational resources such as tips for how to talk to your children about social media.

Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri, in a blog post, called the new controls “the first step in a longer-term journey to develop intuitive supervision tools, informed by experts, teens and parents." The VR parental-supervision tools, which will limit access to Quest headset content that is not appropriate for younger ages, will begin rolling out in April.

Instagram said in December it planned to provide more tools to protect teens online. Internal research found Instagram is harmful for a sizable percentage of young users, particularly teenage girls with body-image concerns, according to a Wall Street Journal article published in September as part of the Facebook Files series. Its parent company disputed the characterization of the findings.

Following the series and pressure from lawmakers, Meta indefinitely halted efforts to build a version of Instagram for children under age 13. The executive overseeing that product left the company earlier this month.

The new parental-control tools require teens to give access to their parents via Instagram’s mobile app, so parents will likely have to initiate a conversation first. In June, parents will be able to make the request to their teens from within the app or website. Even then, teens will have to approve the parent supervision before the tools start to work.

The tools won’t allow parents to see posts their teens like or comment on, direct messages they send and receive, or content they are viewing. Instagram also isn’t enacting an age-verification tool, which would make it more difficult for children under age 13 to join the app.

While the tools might give some control over how teens use Instagram, it doesn’t do enough to change what they consume on the app, parenting experts say. Even with parental controls, Instagram’s algorithm can serve up self-harm content, such as posts about eating disorders, said Devorah Heitner, author of “Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World."

Instead of putting the onus on parents, “the app needs to do more for both kids and adult users to make it a safer place to interact," Dr. Heitner said.

In the coming months, Instagram said it would add more parental-control features, such as letting parents set hours during which children can use the service (something that now can be done using device-specific parental controls such as Apple’s Screen Time.) Instagram also said it would allow more than one parent to supervise a teen’s account.

Along with the new Instagram controls, Mr. Mosseri detailed new parental tools for Meta’s Quest VR headsets, such as blocking teens from downloading age-inappropriate apps. It will also introduce a Parent Dashboard with supervision tools linked to the teen’s account—“based on consent from both sides," Mr. Mosseri said.

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