Parents have been urged to strictly monitor social media usage to protect their children from imagery that has been circulating since the start of Hamas’s attack on Israel.
The concern is the long-term impact on mental health, including anxiety, sadness, isolation, distress and an elevated fear of personal risk.
“I think that urge to look is a human and understandable one. When incomprehensible things are happening, we feel the urge to understand and reconcile. Seeking information is one of the ways that we do that,” Cassie Barrett from Jewish Care Victoria told The AJN. For tweens and teens, it is normal to find other sources of information, including social media, if parents aren’t having age-appropriate conversations.
Setting up your child’s social media accounts properly, and talking openly about the effects apps can have, is key. For Jaimie Bloch, clinical psychologist and founder of Mind Movers Psychology, a collaborative approach is crucial.
“Force creates resistance and when we force our children to do things, they will resist them. It is always better to create a relationship of mutual respect, and sit down and discuss with your tweens/teens the concerns you may have about the content of the graphic videos and images on social media,” she told The AJN. “The best thing to do is first try and have an open and honest conversation with your child about what they have been exposed to, if they have any questions and to create an open and safe space for them to share how they are feeling before you jump to disconnecting them online.”
Muting certain accounts on your child’s profile means that posts and stories from those accounts won’t show up in feeds. These accounts can be unmuted, if you and your child want them to be, once the war is over. Celebrities who are sharing visually distressing images and antisemitic and anti-Israel rhetoric, and news accounts are good ones to mute immediately.
Also, managing your child’s time on social media and role-modelling this behaviour is something that all parents should do.
“Young people are always more inclined to align to what we do as opposed to what we say. If we’re telling them to stay off their phones and disconnect, and we are constantly on our own phones or talking about the situation, it’s confusing,” Barrett said. Make an agreement about when it is okay to use phones, engage in other activities, and take phones away before bed.
You can also set time limits in apps.
- On Instagram, set a daily time limit through the ‘your activity’ and ‘time spent’ section of the settings. There’s also ‘reminder to take breaks’.
- TikTok offers a family pairing feature to restrict search terms, limit content and filter out videos with specific words or hashtags. You can find this in the ‘content preferences’ setting.
- On YouTube, there’s the Family Link tool which sets time limits and content blocking.
For teens who are facing tough conversations with their friends, there are ways to remove yourself from the conversation. Being honest and transparent with your need to stop looking doesn’t negate the hurt and distress you’re feeling for Israel.
“Say to your friends, ‘I don’t want to sound like I don’t care but I don’t think my mind or heart can take any more today’ or ‘I’m finding this really overwhelming, I think I’m going to stay off my phone for a bit, or keep Shabbat this week because I really need to stay away from the news’,” Barrett said.
Importantly, there’s no one way to help tweens and teens who are seeing the horrible images.
“The main thing is supporting the connection. Affirm that it’s great they’ve come to you. You don’t want them sitting with it on their own so validate their response,” she said. Then, reorientate their thinking, and check in with them often. “Reassure them that the response they’re having is normal, but check in to see if it intersects with their wellbeing. Are they finding it hard to sleep or eat?” And constantly check in with them to talk about the impact of social media.
“Reassure them that the response they’re having is normal, but check in to see if it intersects with their wellbeing. Are they finding it hard to sleep or eat? Things like this indicate that it may be a more persistent impact,” said Barrett.
Bloch agreed, suggesting that you empower your teen to support themselves. “Make it invitational, get them to come to their own conclusions and answers and then brainstorm ways they want to try to minimise their online exposure,” before stressing that every family is unique.
“It’s important to tune into your child and see what will work best for them.”