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Inside the 'no social media' movement

(Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
(Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Should kids be allowed on social media?

A growing number of families are saying “no” to social media at all.

Today, On Point: Inside the ‘no social media’ movement.


Felicia Hernandez, parent of an 11-year-old.

Katie Longhauser, parent of three kids who are 11, 9, and 6 years old.

Evan Greer, director of Fight for the Future, an organization that works to protect people’s basic rights in the digital age. Parent.

Also Featured

Denise Rappmund, parent in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Sacha Rappmund, 11-year-old in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Zach Rausch, associate research scientist at New York University. Lead researcher for the book “The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness.”


Part I

CLAIRE DONNELLY: Have you guys talked about when, what age would be a good age for Sacha to get a smartphone?

SACHA RAPPMUND: I personally think that maybe I could get one by like high school, but you guys are like intent on like college or something.

DENISE RAPPMUND: No, I really don’t have a time. I don’t really, I don’t know. And I think everyone’s trying to do their best. Yeah, at some point, in this modern society, yeah, he’ll need a phone.

SACHA: By high school, please? Please?

DENISE: But at this point, the watch is working fine. I just, I really don’t know.

DENISE: I’m Denise Rappmund.

SACHA: I’m Sacha Rappmund. We live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, El Dorado and I’m 11 years old.

CHAKRABARTI: And Sacha, and his mom Denise, are trying to find their way through the same thicket that many families are negotiating. Whether or not to get on social media. A conversation which is basically synonymous with when should a kid get a smartphone?

DENISE: We noticed Sacha’s peers started having smartphones as early as kindergarten, and that was just not something that we wanted to do. So I guess that was probably when we first started thinking about it.

SACHA: I keep telling my parents I can have a smartphone and also not have social media on it, but they don’t listen to me.

Almost everyone else in the class has a smartphone. I’m like one of the only people who doesn’t. I have this watch.

DENISE: The Apple watch. Like on the family plan. Even if we could keep all the apps off, which I guess, you can do parental controls and keep a lot of it off. I guess for me, it’s not just the social media, it’s also just the way that the device pulls us in.

And for now, we opted for the smartwatch, because it enables us to communicate.

SACHA: Yeah.

DENISE: And he can text with his friends and call his friends.

SACHA: I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything in social media. You can just look it up. If somebody does something stupid on social media, look up somebody doing something stupid on social media, and something will probably pop up.

But I don’t know. I feel like other kids who have smartphones just look down on people who don’t, just to make themselves feel better. They’re just like, “Hey, you don’t have a smartphone. Random insult.” That happens like daily because I don’t have one. I feel jealous of them and I’m always seeing my parents use them like a lot.

Okay. Sorry mom, but yeah.

CHAKRABARTI: You can’t see it. But at this point, Sacha is looking, miming her swiping her phone over and over again. Just looking down at the screen. And to that, Sacha, I say you’re exactly right. We parents are guilty as charged. Hypocrisy.

DENISE: Yeah, part of it is we’ve already fallen victim to it, so like, why I don’t really want my child to. Because the availability of smartphones and then social media, it came at us so fast.

And I don’t think any of us realized where it was going or how it was going to really impact us. I’m trying to be better myself. So I recognize that is a fault or weakness or something I’ve fallen prey to, or however you want to phrase it.

CHAKRABARTI: Now Denise also tells us something really interesting.

She was on Facebook and Instagram, but her Instagram got hacked, so she had to get rid of it.

DENISE: Those things happen, but it was good. It was good to get those things out of my life. Because I felt like I was a statistic in terms of happiness level and fear of missing out or whatever. I just feel much healthier mentally without those things.

CHAKRABARTI: This is On Point. I’m Meghna Chakrabarti. And I’m a mom too, full disclosure there. Denise, I really feel you for a couple of things. One is, when she says she found herself to be a statistic and also was so much happier when she got off Facebook and Instagram, that’s exactly the kind of feeling that’s driving a lot of parents to question whether their kids should be on social media.

And also, I hear that hesitance in your voice, Denise. And what I hear actually is a mom who doesn’t want to accidentally promise her son anything in front of millions of listeners on the radio. But I also hear a mom who’s trying to do the best she can with a question that has no perfect answer, because that’s what raising a child is, especially in the social media age.

It’s an act of doing the best you can with imperfect information. But that doesn’t mean that Sacha isn’t drawn to social media.

SACHA: Yeah, a lot of kids with phones, they use stuff like social media, like Instagram and Snapchat and stuff. Sometimes I ask them, like, when they’re on Snapchat and they can just do weird stuff to their face.

I’m just like, “Oh, can I try that?”

CHAKRABARTI: And at the same time, Sacha himself is trying to navigate the social minefield that is middle school. About those random insults he says he gets for not having a phone?

SACHA: “You don’t have a smartphone, you have bad parents.” Yeah, you have a smartphone, and you have brain dead parents.

CHAKRABARTI: Sacha understands his mom’s argument. He’s a smart 11-year-old. Look, he worries about getting really addicted to a smartphone or social media himself, even though he says he’s not that interested in Snapchat or Instagram or TikTok. And it’s not like he hasn’t thought about the downsides of technology.

SACHA: If we just keep getting more addicted to this, the child generation is going to get less useful, and we’re going to have to rely on robots and everything to do stuff for us, and we’re just like sitting around doing nothing.

That’s the thing that worries me most about social media, like right now, maybe it’s short term. Not short term, maybe it’s not as significant now, it is significant, but not as significant, but as we get older and there’s like more generations that are growing up with more and more advanced technology, that’s not going to help our ability to function.

And we’re just going to be letting robots do stuff for us. And that wouldn’t be good. If you’re in class and the only app you have is the compass and you’re bored, you might still just take out your phone and look at the compass. Because any part of it could be addictive. And I guess that worries me, I might get really addicted to it, but I’m still gonna keep arguing to have one. (LAUGHS)

CHAKRABARTI: So today we’re talking about the kind of conversation going on between parents and kids everywhere that Denise and Sacha are having, when to get on social media, and perhaps more interestingly, the increasing number of families who are saying no to social media entirely. So let’s turn now to Katie Longhauser.

She’s a parent of three kids. They’re 11, nine and six years old. And she joins us from Prairie Village, Kansas. Katie, welcome.

KATIE LONGHAUSER: Hi, Meghna. Thank you for having me.

CHAKRABARTI: I wonder if you heard some familiar themes between Denise and Sacha that maybe are going on in your household, in your family.

LONGHAUSER: Yeah, of course.

I think first and foremost, as parents, we are imperfect, and this parenting thing is hard. And navigating technology, social media for kids is no easy task, but I think they made a great point as reflecting on our own behavior and what we’re modeling is really important here, but I share some of the same struggles and some of the same sentiments that they did.

CHAKRABARTI: So tell me, do you have a philosophy on when you want your kids to get on social media, if at all? Cause you’ve got ages that run the gamut from 11 to six.

LONGHAUSER: I do. Yes. Quite honestly, I’ve been avoiding it as long as possible. And quite frankly, with technology, we are very conservative.

Our kids don’t have their own tablets. They don’t have access to screen time at any point of the day, whenever they want. I’m very leery to introduce cell phones. The phone is mine. And if they need to look up something or they need something, then I’m with them while they do. Social media is not on the plan or the agenda for us to add to my daughter. She’s our oldest and she’s 11 in fifth grade. It’s not on the plan right now to add that to what she’s doing. We don’t, she doesn’t even have a smartphone. I have no interest in getting her a smartphone anytime soon.

And though there’s a lot of her friends who do, there are some of her friends who are on social media, or they have TikTok or whatever. But that’s something that I think we are going to hold off on as long as possible.

CHAKRABARTI: As long as possible. Okay, so you and I can have our idealized parenting moment together, Katie. And how long would you like as long as possible to be?

LONGHAUSER: Honestly, recently I’ve looked at, been looking at Jonathan Haidt’s book, “The Anxious Generation,” and what he recommends, I fully support. So he recommends waiting until 16 for social media, 18 would be even better. But I like that idea, especially because when you look at the brain development and what’s happening in those preadolescent years and those early teen years, and especially for girls, the science proves that them being exposed to social media does not have a ton of positive outcomes.

And I just don’t see the positive side to introducing it any sooner than we have to.

CHAKRABARTI: What does your daughter have to say about that?

LONGHAUSER: She doesn’t really know any different right now. The biggest thing for her right now is getting a smartphone. And she knows that’s not an option. So we have introduced like a way for her to communicate with us.

Like, when she has sports practices and she stays after school later, or if she’s at a friend’s house. So we have a Gabb Watch where she can communicate with us. We haven’t introduced ways for her to communicate to her friends outside of school and activities yet. But that would be the next step. So our goal is to introduce things in phases.

So ability to communicate with friends socially, outside of making a phone call on my phone. And then slowly introducing like maybe a Gabb Phone where there aren’t, it’s not a smartphone, right? They don’t have access to the worldwide web and all those things. And social media. So social media is a lot further down the road.

First, it’s navigating and communicating on a watch. Then it might be like a Gabb Phone where she does start to have more consistent communication. But again, social media is not on the agenda and she’s okay with that right now. She understands that her brain is still developing, that mom and dad are here to protect her, and she doesn’t understand it quite yet. But we want to make sure things are safe and she’s able to navigate this as safely as possible.

And she just understands that she doesn’t fully understand, and it’s quote unquote, not fair, but we love her and that’s why we’re making these choices.

CHAKRABARTI: Not fair. Okay. That’s really interesting. So when we come back, we’re going to talk more about, there’s no right answer here. So the pros and the cons, and it’s very kid dependent too, but this is just a conversation about, like, how are families navigating this? So I’m going to hear a lot more from you, Katie, and from other guests as well. We’ll be back. This is On Point.

Part II

CHAKRABARTI: We’re talking about the now very common question in households across the country about when should kids get on social media? And I acknowledge it’s very strongly connected to when should kids get a smartphone. And today we’re also trying to understand and listen to voices of people who aren’t really wanting their kids to get on social media at all.

But it runs the gamut, really, because again, this is a no right answers kind of conversation. So let’s listen to LaKenya Hinton, who’s a parent in Warner Robins, Georgia. And LaKenya emphasizes it’s important for parents to be monitoring what kids do online, for sure. And she told us she does let her 10-year-old daughter use social media, but that’s the youngest she thinks is appropriate.

LaKENYA HINTON: She doesn’t have anything in her name. Everything is under me. She does have TikTok on her phone, but it’s under my account, which means that if things are being posted, of conversations being had, I can be involved in them if necessary. My daughter’s 10. My son is not so much involved or wanting to be involved in social media.

He just likes to do the YouTubers and the games and stuff like that.

And here’s listener Pedro Silva, a parent in Lafayette, Colorado. He told us he let his daughter download Instagram at age 11, but that was the only app he let her have at first. Pedro says his daughter wanted to use the app to share her art projects with faraway friends and family.

PEDRO SILVA: I didn’t want her to be on social media at all, but all of her other cousins and many of her friends were already on it, early as age six. So I felt like I was being a little extra for not letting her have anything. So I limited it to Instagram. Now she has Snapchat, as well. I am not a fan. Snapchat, I actually think is the worst, because they constantly are taking pictures of themselves.

If I knew more about Snapchat I would not have let her have it at all. She’s a little older now but I still feel that way, but it’s hard to back off of it.

CHAKRABARTI: That’s Pedro Silva in Lafayette, Colorado. We’ll hear from a lot more parents who called us with their stories and their internal struggles, when we said we were doing this hour on social media.

We’re joined today by Katie Longhauser. She’s a parent of three and lives in Prairie Village, Kansas, and I want to bring Evan Greer into the conversation now. Evan is director of Fight for the Future, an organization that works to protect people’s basic rights in the digital age. Evan, welcome to On Point.

EVAN GREER: Thanks so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

CHAKRABARTI: As you know very well, Evan, that this conversation has grown in frequency and importance in families and homes across the country. First of all, what do you think about the change in terms of people not just diving into social media as they did, say, even five or six years ago with their kids.

GREER: Yeah, I think this is exactly right. That we’re looking at this as an issue that has so many different perspectives and where there isn’t really a one size fits all solution.

Different kids have different needs. And one of the things we know is that different kids from different communities have different needs. For example, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a really important report that showed there are adverse mental health outcomes from young people using and overusing social media.

But that same report also showed that LGBTQ young people, specifically, actually experience better outcomes if they have access to social media. And so while I think our attitudes towards social media have shifted over time, in the end, we really need to look at this as a both, and. It’s a double-edged sword that can help or harm our kids.

And that’s why we need thoughtful policies to make an internet that works for young people and for them in the future.

CHAKRABARTI: Can you tell me more about this? Because I think this is the side that parents don’t often think about. But when you draw your perspective out more broadly, it seems very clear that social media, one of its positives that it has provided spaces for people to have the conversations and make connections that they may not have otherwise had the opportunity to, all the way to activism and political activism on a global scale.

So tell me more about what you’ve studied and learned about what those spaces provide, that young people specifically might not otherwise have.

GREER: Yeah, I think first of all, we just have to remember that not all parents are the parents that we’re hearing from on this show, who are having thoughtful conversations with their kids about what’s appropriate.

I’ll just read a quick quote from a young person who sent a survey to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who says, “When my dad gets drunk and hard to be around, or my parents are arguing, I can go on YouTube and Instagram and watch something fun to laugh instead. It gives me a lot of comfort to be able to distract myself from my sometimes-upsetting home life.

I get to see what life is like for billions of other people on the planet, in different cities, states, and countries. I get to share my life with my friends too, freely speaking my thoughts.” That’s from an anonymous 15-year-old. And unfortunately, there’s a lot of other anonymous 15-year-olds out there who perhaps don’t have a safe and healthy home life and find access to not just community, but actually lifesaving information online.

And I think that’s why we need to understand that what we need is policies that make social media more beneficial, rather than policies that kick kids off social media. These are conversations that should be happening in families rather than something that, for example, the government is dictating to families.

CHAKRABARTI: Are you talking about the potential TikTok ban?

GREER: Sure, the potential TikTok ban, but also bipartisan legislation that is well intentioned. But that rather than attacking the fundamental design flaws, with big tech social media companies, is focused either on kicking kids off of social media entirely, or censoring content that could be harmful to kids but also could be really important for kids.

There’s a lot of legislation out there that sort of comes from a similar philosophy to abstinence only sex education, which we know failed miserably. Because actually, kids do better when we can educate them and give them agency. And just very quickly, to your previous point, we also know that young people are using social media as a tool to speak out about the world.

Young people like Greta Thunberg have used social media to address the climate crisis. Young people have been speaking out about gun violence and mass shootings in schools. Young people are speaking out about what’s going on in Gaza right now. We can’t take that megaphone and tool away from them, rather we need to think through ways that we can ensure they still have access to that, while protecting them from the very real harms that do exist on these platforms.

CHAKRABARTI: So Katie, let me turn back to you. And again, I want to emphasize, and we’re all in agreement here. This is a no single right answer conversation, right? We’re all just trying to learn from each other. But I just wonder what you think about the fact that, I, Again, total transparency. I tend to focus on the downsides of social media myself.

But Evan’s exactly right. There are countless numbers of communities out there that kids wouldn’t otherwise have access to. And, has that come up in your own conversations with your kids or what do you think about that?

LONGHAUSER: That has not come up in any of our conversations. I see Evan’s point.

I understand there are times where I think social media can be very powerful and a place to find a community, a place to find connection and a place to find other people to help maybe advocate for something that you might need support on. With that being said, nothing is inherently all good or all bad, right?

It has to come with some controls and some sort of level of protection for the young minds that aren’t necessarily able to navigate it safely. And as parents, that is our job. And. And I’m not saying that we should take away your freedom to choose or kids ability to be on social media. But for us, our preference is to lean into having a little bit more safety net than maybe others, and no judgment.

But that’s where we stand. And that’s what I believe is best for my kids. And again, positions can change. Where we stand today might change tomorrow or next week. Next year, we don’t know what’s ahead of us, but what we do know is right now, this is the decision we are making. This is the ground we’re standing on firmly and that might change.

But again, the safety of our children and protecting them is first and foremost.

CHAKRABARTI: I want to let both of you know that I’ve been wrestling profoundly with how much of my own experience I’m going to bring into this conversation because I don’t want to make it about me, but I just want to disclose I’m living this reality absolutely myself right now.

But I’ll share this one little thing and Katie, I wonder what you think about this. Again, full disclosure. We are a no social media household. And in fact, we were a no smartphone for kids household. And that was like an unwavering position that we had. I moderated it slightly.

Because one of my offsprings very persuasively demonstrated to me that so much of how her peer group socializes with each other, happens, maybe not on social media, but definitely through texting. And that she was being left out of a lot of the experiences of growing up and there was just a lot of conversations that were happening through text that she didn’t know about. And at first I was like, “You see them at school.

Who cares?”

That was the ’80s Meghna speaking. I just didn’t realize how important forming those connections via text messaging was. Is that something that you’ve encountered, Katie? I know your oldest is only 11. Mine’s a bit older, but has that come up?

LONGHAUSER: Actually, it’s not fully, but we’re getting closer.

There are girls who … in fifth grade, there’s already like a group chat. And there’s kids that have devices in their rooms at night and they can chat at all hours of the day and night. We are looking at that and dealing with that a little bit, but I also grapple with the idea of like, how are we going to navigate this?

And I really do believe that it becomes a collective action for a community, a school, like, parents uniting. And I’ve actually reached out to some moms who have kids in my daughter’s class to say, to answer their stance on social media, like, where are they with this? And how are they navigating this?

One has an older daughter and one has all younger kids. So it’s, I think getting on the same page with peers, your kids peers, or parents can help navigate this unknown territory together. And so that there’s a collective sort of action and it might look different for one family than the other, which is fine, but having some understanding as to what it looks like for most of the families.

And then if there’s a uniform, Hey, we’re not going to only communicate on Snapchat. We’re going to go ahead and have a text feed, where say if my daughter isn’t participating in social media, she’s not completely excluded. Because I know there are sports teams in our area that only use Snapchat to communicate with some of their athletes in high school, nonetheless, but still that’s not that far away.

So again, having ways that where the community can come together and create this unified maybe way of navigating this, so we don’t feel so alone with it. And then also the kids, it’ll ripple down, have a ripple effect to the kids. So that they also know that there’s peers who may have similar experiences or have a similar sort of rules or whatever as them.

CHAKRABARTI: Evan, what do you think about that?

GREER: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more that this is a collective problem and not just an individual one. And that’s why parents can and should make the choices that are best for their families. But this is also a policy issue, and something that lawmakers can do something about so that parents aren’t just struggling through the muck of saying either I let my kids on these very harmful social media platforms that all their friends are on, or I don’t.

We can put in place policies to, for example, address harmful design practices like autoplay and infinite scroll, that thing that keeps your kid clicking and scrolling. One video ends, the next video plays. Those are the types of things that we could actually address with legislation to lead to a future where if you don’t like the social media platform that your kid is on, you can actually find one that has content moderation and privacy practices that work for you and your family.

And so I really feel for parents that are out there struggling and grappling with this. And I’m one too. I have a 13 year old at home. And so I am very much in the throes of this myself. But I recognize that what’s right for my kid is not necessarily what’s right for all kids. And that’s why we need thoughtful policies that are rooted in addressing the harmful business practices of these companies, rather than cutting kids off from kind of content and information and access to online community.

I think that’s really the tension at the core of this.

CHAKRABARTI: I would agree. And a little later in the show I want to get more thoughts from you on how do we advance those policies? Because, of course, the business practice and the profit that’s coming from it is so overwhelming. It’s not going to come from the social media companies themselves, which is why parents like Katie, me, everybody out there, like you said, we’re left to navigate the muck on our own here.

So let’s listen to just a couple of other parents. Actually, before I do that, I want to just remind everyone that I’m Meghna Chakrabarti and this is On Point. So here’s some more from On Point listeners. This is Lauren Garrett from Holden, Massachusetts, who says her kids are the ones who are not interested in social media.

LAUREN GARETT: I had to force my 15-year-old to download Snapchat. Because that’s where his teammates were communicating about events for his hockey team. Both of my teenagers make fun of me for my own use of social media and tell me it’s stupid and not to do it.

CHAKRABARTI: And here’s Margaret in Bluffton, South Carolina, who says both of her kids have had social media since they were about 13.

MARGARET: The way we handle it is we let the consequences come to them. So if they do something wrong or they do something inappropriate, or if they do something that they know that we do not want them to do, then they have to have the consequence. They don’t have their phone for a month, or they don’t have their games for a month.

They don’t go see their friends for a month, use their own brains, use their own minds. Think for themselves. They know right from wrong, and if they choose wrong, then they have to deal with what the outcome is.

CHAKRABARTI: Let’s bring Felicia Hernandez into the conversation now. She joins us from Lake Worth Beach, Florida, is mom of an 11 year old.

Felicia, welcome to On Point.


CHAKRABARTI: Really glad to have you here. So give me quickly your take, if you could, on how you’re handling this social media question with your 11 year old.

HERNANDEZ: So I try to be just understanding. Because I know nowadays kids are, and just everyone is so big on doing like pictures with the funny filters and stuff like that.

So really that’s where my 11 year old’s mind is, wanting the cute filters from Snapchat and things like that. And for me, I just say no to it. I have it on my phone, and I tell her she can take them on my phone and she can save them, but as far as for her, I just feel like it could lead to so much more.

She could send a picture to her friend and then, who’s to say that it won’t lead to more people being added onto her friends list. And then, people couldn’t screenshot pictures of her and it can just go so much further. I guess I just think so far ahead where my idea of it is just, no, if you want to take the pictures, we can take them on my phone and I can send them to you, but I just don’t want her to get wrapped up in the world of those apps.

CHAKRABARTI: Can you tell me if your, has your view on this changed? And were you more open to it, let’s say, five years ago, thinking, “Oh yeah, one day, when my kid’s ready, I think social media would be okay.” Or have you always had this very, I’m trying to, I’m so sorry, Felicia.

This subject, honestly, because I’m living it too, it just discombobulates my head. But have you evolved in your perspective? Or were you always just a no social media parent?

HERNANDEZ: For me, the only type of social media that I really let her have, I guess if you consider YouTube, I think that is social media.

I do let her have the YouTube, just so she can watch like her videos and the makeup videos and stuff like that. But it is closely monitored. I will say that I think my view on it is pretty much the same, if not even a little tighter. And I say that because I just, I see how things are and I just feel as each day goes by, it just gets a little scarier and scarier.

So I would say it’s gotten a little stronger, my view on no Snapchat, no Instagram, none of that stuff.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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