Challenging Conversations

Helping Your Kids Manage Media Consumption During War Time

Delaney Ruston, MD
October 17, 2023
Teen girl reading on a purple iPhone.

As we all know, a horrific tragedy is happening in the Middle East. It is yet another call to action for us adults to proactively mitigate the negative impacts of media seen by our kids and teens.

Today, I am concentrating on three steps to help protect our kids from the downsides of social media and overall screen time, especially given the prevalence of violence, misinformation, and distressing content right now. 

Many teens feel that staying well-informed is a sign of solidarity and is the right thing to do. However, there are many cracks in this logic. While there is no need to contest their thoughts on this directly, it is important to create safeguards around what and how much every child, young and old, is seeing.

1. Know what news they are getting exposed to

Ask your kids where they hear and see things about the Middle East conflict and other hard news. This is key because it might be from places we haven’t even considered. Perhaps they are watching YouTube videos. Some teens have shared that there is a TV in the cafeteria with news on it at their high school. Many see things on Instagram or TikTok. 

2. Discuss the problems of getting online media.  

There are many problems with the media diet getting fed to our kids. One issue is that the more shocking a video or image is, the more plays it will get on social media. The business model favors eyeballs on screens; thus, platforms like X (formally Twitter) and others have little incentive to prevent such content from being disseminated.

And that goes for false information, too. The amount of false information and fake images distributed is a big problem. This issue is so big that I will write a separate blog about it soon, but if you want more on this, check out my past blog posts, How To Think Like A Fact Checker and Helping Youth Navigate War Videos on TikTok.

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3. Change settings on tech

Have the family bring phones, iPads, and computers to the table and together optimize settings in Youtube, Instagram, TikTok, etc., to improve what and how much gets seen. Here are some pointers:

Instagram

Back in 2022, Instagram launched a setting option called “Suggested content” to help people choose to have less intense violent and sexual content. 

Here is how to do it. 

YouTube

Disable autoplay. Last night, I did just that. Here is how to do this

With YouTube’s app, one can also stop autoplay. 

Also, one can choose "Restricted mode" in the settings, which helps hide content that YouTube deems “potentially mature.”

Tiktok

Make sure the “For You” page is set to "Restricted mode." I know firsthand that the “Restricted mode” still lets in all sorts of videos that I think are inappropriate. But in terms of harm reduction, it is worth putting it on. Here is how to do this.

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Also, for TikTok, it can be an ideal time to try out the Family Pairing system with your teen, where you link your account with them and customize their settings, such as the amount of daily use. In the "Family Pairing" tool, you can do things like filter video keywords. Here is how to do this.

Remember to talk about how we are working on this together so this is not me vs. you. After all, there are ways to get around these types of settings. 

Questions to start the conversation:

  1. What information about the Middle East and other issues is coming to you online?
  2. What are some problems regarding the information and images we get via various platforms?
  3. Let’s optimize our settings to limit the problems of what and how much we consume.

As well as our weekly blog, we publish videos like this one every week on the Screenagers YouTube channel

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Challenging Conversations

Helping Your Kids Manage Media Consumption During War Time

Delaney Ruston, MD
October 17, 2023
Teen girl reading on a purple iPhone.

As we all know, a horrific tragedy is happening in the Middle East. It is yet another call to action for us adults to proactively mitigate the negative impacts of media seen by our kids and teens.

Today, I am concentrating on three steps to help protect our kids from the downsides of social media and overall screen time, especially given the prevalence of violence, misinformation, and distressing content right now. 

Many teens feel that staying well-informed is a sign of solidarity and is the right thing to do. However, there are many cracks in this logic. While there is no need to contest their thoughts on this directly, it is important to create safeguards around what and how much every child, young and old, is seeing.

1. Know what news they are getting exposed to

Ask your kids where they hear and see things about the Middle East conflict and other hard news. This is key because it might be from places we haven’t even considered. Perhaps they are watching YouTube videos. Some teens have shared that there is a TV in the cafeteria with news on it at their high school. Many see things on Instagram or TikTok. 

2. Discuss the problems of getting online media.  

There are many problems with the media diet getting fed to our kids. One issue is that the more shocking a video or image is, the more plays it will get on social media. The business model favors eyeballs on screens; thus, platforms like X (formally Twitter) and others have little incentive to prevent such content from being disseminated.

And that goes for false information, too. The amount of false information and fake images distributed is a big problem. This issue is so big that I will write a separate blog about it soon, but if you want more on this, check out my past blog posts, How To Think Like A Fact Checker and Helping Youth Navigate War Videos on TikTok.

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