Why I signed a pledge with other parents to keep my kids off social media until middle school

A young girl gazes at her smartphone.
Parents are signing pledges agreeing to keep their kids off social media. Here's why. (Getty Images)

Tamara Weston is a freelance writer and producer. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two kids.

One evening last week while I was somewhere in between bath time and asking my kids to brush their teeth for the 10th time, my first-grade parent WhatsApp chat started blowing up. As I quickly scrolled to the top of the conversation, I noticed a lot of “Yes!!!” and “Thank you!!!” comments. Parents agreeing and responding enthusiastically to something in a school chat? This could not wait.

As it turns out, a father with years of experience working with tech companies like Google and Meta proposed we take a pledge as a group of parents to delay our children from getting on social media. “I challenge everyone in this class to be the parents of the kids who are the last to get on social media,” he wrote to our group.

The plan was simple: If we all agree exposing our children to Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat — the usual suspects — is ultimately harmful, given concerns that it can negatively impact mental health, body image, self-esteem and more, then let’s band together and hold the line, at least until middle school. This wasn’t about limiting the use of devices or even screen time (that’s a battle we’re already fighting); it was about ensuring that the content our children consume is chosen with intention rather than by an algorithm that doesn’t have their best interests and mental well-being in mind. And the most effective way to do that is to stay in control for as long as possible.

The benefit of deciding as a group to restrict our kids from social media is that we can collectively hold each other accountable. But we all have to do our part for the system to succeed; if even a few families don’t participate, it becomes a slippery slope and more will eventually want to follow because, well, it’s just easier when you have one less thing to worry about as a parent. Sticking together is key, the organizing parent explained. While we won’t be able to control every environment (such as extracurriculars, family gatherings, camp), it will certainly help to know that school is a safe place where no child will feel excluded for not being on social media. And for us parents, it will simply be easier to avoid caving to pressure when our children likely start asking to go online in the next five to six years if we form a united front now (though that timeline sounds like wishful thinking to me).

I immediately loved the idea (cue three thumbs-up emojis, three flexed-bicep emojis). The plan to keep our kids off social media was generally well received by other parents, too — though those with older children did argue that FOMO (fear of missing out) can be a real struggle as kids get closer to their teens and see their peers setting up TikTok accounts when they cannot. (For some of these families, allowing a middle schooler to join just one platform, with supervision, has been a happy compromise.)

I recently heard someone refer to social media as the tobacco industry of our children's generation. Everyone uses it, there’s a ton of money to be made from it, and while we know consuming it can’t be great for our health, it hasn’t been around long enough for any of the data to make a significant impact on Washington. The U.S. Surgeon General — who is now calling for Congress to require warning labels on social media platformswarned just last year that 13-year-olds were still too young to be on social media, and yet that’s exactly the user minimum age requirement for platforms like Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat. Sure, they’re coming up with ways to implement more restrictions for underage users, but it takes an incredibly vigilant parent to ensure those hold up.

Despite it seeming like a lofty ambition, my fellow first-grade parents are far from alone in the effort to curb their children’s exposure to social media. These partnerships formed by like-minded parents and bound by a social contract or pledge are becoming more popular within schools and across communities, with some even broadening the scope to include a limit on technology in general until their children reach a certain age. For some the goal is eighth grade; for others, it’s waiting until after high school graduation. As these movements continue to grow in popularity, we’re also seeing institutions join in, like high schools that completely ban cellphones on campuses. Progress is indeed possible.

While I’m typically skeptical of a one-size-fits-all approach to solving or mitigating challenges surrounding my children’s well-being, a grassroots-type of parent-led approach feels like our best bet right now to building consumption guardrails intended to truly put our kids first. But I’m realistic about this. I can’t expect my kids to go along with any plan for our family if I don’t lead by example. If I want my kids to care less about social media or devices in general, then I have to do the same. If our kids saw us spending less time with our heads down and our thumbs scrambling, they’d probably stop asking about it, or at least, they’d ask less, right?

The thought of adding social media as a topic to my mental list of “things to worry about at night when my kids are asleep” makes me want to ignore it completely. But we can’t afford to be lazy about this. We know too much. We have the capacity to be real agents of change in this conversation, and I think it’s a responsibility we, as parents, should be eager to own.

This article was originally published on Feb. 15, 2024 and has been updated.