Dr Angélique Gozlan’s Advice to Parents on Teen Social Media Use? “Let’s Go Back to What We Know”
“So, when it comes to social media, let's go back to what we know: let's inform ourselves as parents, let's take an interest in our children's practices, and accompany them in their first steps on social networks.”
Dr Angélique Gozlan is a PhD in psychopathology, teacher and researcher with over 15 years of experience in child psychiatry. Dr. Angelique is one of the experts supporting the Youth Network Meta launched in partnership with ThinkYoung.
Why did you join Meta's network of youth experts?
I joined the network because the project seemed very relevant to me. Young people are on social networks, they're building themselves up through their exchanges on these platforms, but they're also finding role models to identify with. It therefore seemed necessary to reach them at the very heart of this space, where they spend a lot of time, and to offer them content created by young people with whom they can identify.
I also wanted to join this network to contribute my knowledge and thoughts on the subject of young people and social networks, which I have been developing for over 15 years. I'm delighted to be able to pass on my knowledge, but also to support young creators on the fundamental issue of young people's safety on social media.
How do you focus on the well-being of young people in your work?
The well-being of young people is at the heart of my work as a psychologist. Every day I see young people in mental distress and I help them to make sense of what they are going through, to find in themselves and in those around them the resources they need to get better. Cultural artefacts, like social media, help young people express themselves and, by discussing them, can often launch the therapeutic process.
What are the myths about young people's well-being and social media?
The myths, or rather beliefs, that I hear about social media and young people's well-being are, first and foremost, addiction: social networks and the way they work are said to have addictive potential. However, there are currently no studies and no scientific consensus to support the diagnosis of addiction to social media.
Secondly, the loss of self: the encouragement to engage in risky behaviour through challenges, for example, or by exchanging nudes, or talking to potentially dangerous strangers. In this sense, social media could make young people vulnerable or depressed. But these two issues are often already present, and the use of social networks highlights this suffering.
How can parents strike a balance between allowing their children to explore and learn independently while ensuring their safety?
There's nothing new about this question. Letting your child explore and experiment in safety is a basic principle of education, and it starts with babies.
So when it comes to social media, let's go back to what we know: let's inform ourselves as parents, let's take an interest in our children's practices, which are not so different from our own, let's prevent risks by learning the rudiments of browsing on a social network (just as when you teach a child to walk, you protect the corners of the table, then buy suitable shoes), let's accompany children in their first steps on social networks by helping them to set up their account. But above all, let's open up a space for dialogue, not only on prevention and settings, but also on our respective browsing habits (which influencer I follow, why, what I like in which social media, which friends I find there). Let's start by considering our children's activity on social media or digital tools as a recreational activity in its own right. When a parent picks up their children after a sporting activity, they ask them how it went... It's the same thing with social media, opening up the dialogue is fundamental by listening to the teenager's needs, the family's needs and your own needs. But be careful not to be intrusive or insistent, as trust is key during adolescence and is essential to encourage the young person's autonomy and individuation.
Are there any emerging trends or technologies that could improve the safety of young people, and how can parents, policymakers and guardians keep abreast of these developments?
Of course, there are all the parental control tools that you can install on your own smartphone or that are internal to a particular social medium (Instagram is rolling out several of these in 2023: definition of length of use, night mode, parental supervision), but this use has its limits if it is not correlated with a parent-child relationship based on respect for each other's privacy, dialogue and trust.
A government digital hub is essential for centralising information on the subject, taking stock of it, and communicating with citizens on the major channels, viewing platforms and radio stations. The platforms naturally have a role to play in this communication, by offering targeted communications for specific categories (young people, parents, grandparents). For parents, it's essential that we collectively take stock of the place of social networks today, by giving them their rightful place in the family and social system. If we take this on board and see social networking as an activity in its own right, then it is also the responsibility of parents to inform themselves about the ins and outs of such an activity.
After the summer holidays and now that children and teenagers are back at school, what advice or best practice on safety for young people could you share with parents?
One of the basic observations we can make is that the more time a young person spends on social media, the more insecure they can become. So my first piece of advice for getting this school year off to a good start is to sit down together, as a family, to co-define the rules for using your smartphone and therefore social media: set a firm but flexible framework for the time you use it and the duration, giving priority to family time and extra-curricular activities. Like any other activity, it must not interfere with the smooth running of the family. Discuss the new safety features offered by certain social media and decide together whether you think it would be appropriate to introduce them. Reaffirm your availability and willingness to listen to your child if anything happens to him or her in these spaces, whether it's an image that has shocked him or her, a hateful comment he or she has received, or an unknown person who has contacted him or her.
ThinkYoung is a not-for-profit organisation, aiming to make the world a better place for young people by involving them in decision-making processes and providing decision-makers with high-quality research on youth conditions. ThinkYoung conducts studies and surveys, makes advocacy campaigns, writes policy proposals, and develops education programmes: up to date, ThinkYoung projects have reached over 800,000 young people.
Meta is a tech company with apps that you may know, like Instagram or WhatsApp. We work hard to build online spaces where young people can learn, connect, create, and have fun. We want young people to enjoy our platforms and to be safe, so creating spaces for young people to have their say on the future of platforms like ours is crucial.