1. TikTok Time Out
What it is: TikTok announced it will institute a limit of 60 minutes per day for users under 18.
How it will work: Users under 18 will be given 60 minutes per day to scroll the offerings on the app. After that, this new feature will require a passcode if they want additional time on the app. The passcode can be set by the user or by a parent with access to the account, but it’s important to note that users can simply opt out of this feature if they would like. Users who are between 13 and 15 years of age will also have their profiles automatically set to private, and teens will get a weekly screen time report that breaks down the time they spent using the app. New features will also be added to TikTok’s Family Pairing parental control dashboard which will allow further time restrictions and will share weekly screen time reports with caregivers. Whether these features will actually have an impact on the way the average young person uses TikTok is anyone’s guess.
2. Are You Smarter Than A Robot?
What it is: Cheating in higher education settings appears to be getting more and more normalized. The Free Press dove into the reasons why.
Why it has to do with COVID-19: The peak of coronavirus restrictions came at a crucial academic time for many students who are now graduating from college. With everyone learning remotely, some opted out of sitting through lectures and hitting the books. These students decided, instead, to spend their energy gaming their exams for an optimum GPA. Today, the entire academic system relies on technologies that young people understand better than their own professors. The Free Press gives examples of learning disabilities being faked or exaggerated to get more time on tests, students sending proxies into their proctored exam rooms while they research and crowdsource answers to midterm questions from outside the room, and the widespread use of ChatGPT to write essays. What seems clear is that students are just as motivated, or perhaps more motivated than ever, to get a good grade—but they are far less motivated by the prospect of actually mastering the material to earn a good grade.
What it is: The Washington Post reports that Instagram Reels featuring disturbing and violent content are being reposted to large meme accounts that have hundreds of thousands of teen followers.
Why it’s happening: Reporting on why violent posts on Instagram are on the rise is somewhat speculative at this point. Here’s what we do know: In its efforts to compete with TikTok, Instagram has been pushing Reels on users, with its algorithm populating users’ feeds with “suggested” Reels from accounts they don’t even follow. Meta’s own data suggests that this push is at least working somewhat, saying that Reels content now accounts for 20 percent of time spent on Instagram. With that increase in the popularity of Reels has come an increase in the type of Reels that violate Instagram’s rules, including posts of women being assaulted and violence against children. These posts tend to get a lot of engagement, even if this engagement is mostly in comments like “What did I just watch?” and “Why was this in my feed?” Meme account owners who don’t care about the content of these posts but are hoping to boost their own engagement metrics may then repost the offensive content to see a quick spike in their numbers, which they can then show potential advertisers.
Song of the Week
“TQG” by KAROL G and Shakira: At #2 on Spotify’s Global Top 50, #6 on the USA Top 50, and #5 on Apple Music’s Top 100, TQG (which roughly translates to “Too Much for You to Handle”) is an anthem about moving on from a relationship and realizing you’re better off without it. Pop icon Shakira (known for her truth-telling hips) joins forces with KAROL G, who may be new to many English-speaking listeners but already has a well-established fan base among Spanish-speakers. The song is actually fairly positive compared to others of the same ilk, focusing on the women’s satisfaction with who they’ve become rather than capitalizing on their exes’ mistakes. For lyrics in Spanish as well as the English translation, click here.
In C.S. Lewis’ book The Magician’s Nephew, the children Polly and Diggory are met with a choice to ring a bell and “bide the danger,” or ignore it and forever wonder what might have happened if they did. Diggory rings the bell, justifying his actions with the words: “We can’t get out of it now. We shall always be wondering what else would have happened if we had struck the bell. I’m not going home to be driven mad by always thinking of that.” The result of his actions is the arrival of the White Witch in Narnia, and a regret that Diggory carries with him for the rest of his life.
Much like this bell, disturbing or violent content that is served to us online can arouse a morbid curiosity. Even if we don’t seek out this type of content, it can be hard to look away when we encounter it. Apps like Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube feed the oldest sin instinct humanity has: the desire to know that which we shouldn’t.
It is hard to read about the engagement with violent content on Instagram without thinking about original sin in the Garden of Eden. The serpent’s promise to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:5 is that they will “be like God, knowing good and evil.” But Adam and Eve lived in a world without sin and walked with God; they already knew all that was good. The temptation lay in what they didn’t know: the nature of evil.
It’s difficult to tear our eyes away from things we know will only do us harm. The desire to know, to see something for ourselves, is powerful. Even though we might wish as soon as we watch something that we hadn’t, the unknowing touches a nerve deep inside us. We don’t want to be left in the dark. Even if it’s horrible, the horror itself entertains us, especially when we view it from the safety of the other side of the screen.
Sin has hardwired us to be drawn to evil, to justify our desire for it, even to actively pursue it and reinforce its presence in the world. Under the salvation of Jesus Christ, we are set free from the evil within us, but in tandem with his sanctifying work we must learn to fight the urge to engage with darkness and let it into our lives.
Questions to spark conversation with your teens:
- Why do you think people watch violent content, even if they don’t want to?
- Do you have any experiences where you saw something on the internet you didn’t want to? How did that affect you?
- What can you do when you feel curious about engaging with something you know will be bad for you?