If your 13 year old wants to download Snapchat or Instagram, how do you know if these apps are age-appropriate? In the App Store, both Snapchat and Instagram are rated “12+.” But who’s doing the rating? (Good question!) Do Snapchat and Instagram allow harmful content? (Umm …YES!) And can parents filter the content? (Nope!)

is social media safe for kids - can parents trust social media app ratings?

Where’s the accountability?

Turns out that the app developers are responsible for rating their own apps! Movies are rated by the MPAA and video games are rated by the independent Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), but no independent organization is rating the apps.

In fact, no one is holding big tech accountable for the impact their technology is having on young people. App ratings are inconsistent and misleading, parental controls are difficult and lacking, and social media companies are not exercising an acceptable level of “duty of care” for young people.

Other countries, like the UK, are calling for social media companies to take more accountability for how their platforms, and the content on them, are affecting teens. You may remember the sad case of 14 year-old Molly Russell who took her life in 2014. Her father later shared that Instagram “helped kill my daughter.”

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It’s a mess!

What happens in many popular apps?

Suicide is glorified, animal cruelty and violence is promoted, and porn performers post lots of porn!

I sat down one afternoon with Melissa McKay, an amazing activist mom who helped initiate the #fixappratings campaign. She showed me account after account of porn performers on Snapchat where kids are invited, through lots of “teaser videos” with full nudity and sexual behavior, to “swipe up” to see the hardcore stuff. Soul-crushing. I knew intellectually that there was porn on these apps, but it shocked another whole side of my brain to see the evidence!

Here is a very mild sample of some of the images sent to the Discovery section of a 13-year-old’s Snapchat account.

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social media discover image for seventeen magazine "planning to have sex on prom night" social media discover image for Vice magazine six word advice for anyone about to lose their virginity

Let’s fix app ratings!

We at Protect Young Minds join with the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Protect Young Eyes and many other organizations to say loudly and clearly: It’s time to fix app ratings!

Here are just a few more reasons:

  • Children are being groomed by predators through Instagram.
  • Violence in sex (that’s porn!) is glamorized through Netflix.
  • Snapchat and Instagram offer monetized accounts for porn performers.
  • Traditional parental control solutions don’t work within these apps.

What specific changes are we hoping for?

  • The creation of an independent app ratings board. This board would have powers similar to the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, which uses a rating system that is clearly understood, enforced, trustworthy, and exists to protect minors.
  • The release of intuitive parental controls on iOS, Android, and Chrome operating systems. These controls should at a minimum include default settings based on a child’s age, be easy to set up, and include one-touch screen time controls (e.g., school and bedtime selective app shut-off).

Make sure your kids are ready to reject pornography wherever they find it! Read Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids with kids ages 6-11 and Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr.: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds with ages 3-7.

“Have you wanted to talk to your kids about pornography, but didn’t know what to say?! I’ve felt that way for quite some time and finally found a solution – Good Pictures Bad Pictures. . . I highly recommend this book to all people with children. A must have for all parents!” – Amazon Review. CLICK HERE to learn more about Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids.

Here’s what YOU CAN DO!

Go to www.fixappratings.com and scroll down to:

  1. Sign the statement that you want to fix app ratings and make sure they reflect what’s really available on the app;
  2. Help pass a resolution in your state by downloading a draft resolution that you can send to your state legislators;
  3. Share on social media by posting some of the memes provided;
  4. Join the Facebook group for FixAppRatings and keep updated!

Now you can feel really good! You’re helping to make the world a better place for kids!

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So can parents trust the current app ratings?

The answer is No! If your child wants to download a social media app onto their smartphone or tablet, or if they already have, please download the app yourself. Start poking around. Search for hashtags a curious young person might look for. See what they are seeing. Live with the app for 7 days. Then make up your mind.

You’ll be convinced that not only do we need to #fixappratings, but we need to convince kids to install their own internal filter!

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Kristen Jenson
Kristen A. Jenson is the founder of Protect Young Minds and author of Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today's Young Kids. Kristen enjoys speaking, writing and anything else that will help empower kids to reject pornography. Kristen earned a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, and a master’s degree in Organizational Communication. Kristen currently lives with her husband in Washington State, where she enjoys growing a vegetable garden, watching Masterpiece Theater, and taking long walks with friends who tolerate her incessant talking about you know what. Above all else, her husband and three children are her greatest treasures.