A more effective approach when parenting is to try and make your child’s social media experiences positive and helpful. The only way to keep your child safe online and avoid risks is to talk to them about social media use. Explaining to your child the dangers of social media can also help your child learn to use these new resources more cautiously, responsibly, and safe.
Social media is not all bad, how it will affect your kid will depend on how it’s used. Responsible use of social media is the best way to ensure your child get the most of it while staying away from risks and the common danger that social media presents. Here are the benefits and harms of social media that you, as a parent should know:
Benefits of social media for kids
- stay connected with family, friends and global communities despite proximity which could give your child a sense of belonging.
- participate in a campaign, charity or nonprofit they believe in.
- develop their own individuality while understanding their interests by creating their own profiles, curating photos and also videos.
- enhance their personality and social skills by sharing thoughts, arts, and music
- access to a venue for self-expression.
- meet and interact with people with common interest and values on a global scale.
- digital media literacy; being informed on the latest news and trends.
- collaborative learning with teachers, educators, and classmates.
Risks of using social media for kids
- social media tend to become a breeding ground for some malicious activities as children often share more than they should online like real names, birthdates, school name, town where they live in and interests.
- the different social media platforms have been used to propagate cyberbullying.
- being exposed to unfiltered content including violent, aggressive or sexual photos and language.
- social media could be used as a means for online predators to prey on your child like sending messages that make them uncomfortable or receive age inappropriate advertisement.
- opens the possibility to encounter with wrong people online.
- private data leaks and selling this data.
- uploading inappropriate content due to lack of supervision.
- kids tend to compare themselves to the “online life” of others and could lead to discontent or low self-esteem.
Addressing the risks of social media
Social media describes online platforms used by people to connect with each other through content sharing, gaming or creating social networks. The most popular social media sites (or apps) include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Youtube. Other messaging apps like WhatsApp, Skype and Viber are also increasingly becoming popular.
Most recently, even online games have evolved as a form of social media where your kids can create a profile, share content and connect with players sharing a common interest. Some very famous multiplayer games online are The Sims, Clash of Clans and Warcraft.
Start an open conversation about social media
In order for your kids to stay safe online, it’s very important that they understand the risks of social media – and that they feel like they can talk to you about it. When your kids reach an age where they are interested in social media, keep an open dialogue with them about it. Try to keep the conversation positive by asking them what sites they are interested in and why they seem exciting and interesting. You should also make sure your kids know about the threats social media presents like cyberbullying and stalking. Building up trust with your kids will make them more likely to tell you if anything fishy happens online.
Make your child understand the risks of being tagged in a bad or embarrassing photo at an event, the dangers that come with sharing content and personal data online, and teach them what to do if faced with harmful and risky people. Don’t forget to remind your kid that anything posted in social media is hard to totally erase from the internet and they should be careful in creating their digital footprint.
Also, check our media guidelines for kids.
Check on them every once in a while
It’s important that kids understand that their profiles are public and that anyone can find them, and a good way to make this point is by checking on their accounts every once in a while. If your kids know you are watching, they are going to be less likely to engage in inappropriate behavior. You should follow your child’s social media accounts and be open that you are checking their activities online to keep them safe.
Ask your child about people they meet in the online space and sound generally interested in their online activities to build trust. Remind your child that they shouldn’t trust people they meet online that much because someone many people can pretend to be someone they’re not. Tell your child to keep online friendship online at all times to prevent risks when meeting up in person. Discuss and agree with your child the kind of content they can post online to keep them safe. As a guide, tell them that anything they post online could remain there forever – so don’t post something that you wouldn’t want your family, teacher or older self to see.
Encourage limited social media use
Social media can feel addictive, so it’s important that kids don’t spend too much time on it. Set some general rules and guidelines for when your children are allowed to be on social media and how much time they can spend on it. Another way to go about this is to encourage healthy offline behavior – spending time with friends, reading, playing sports, making art, or whatever hobbies your kids are interested in. If your kids are resisting, remind them that they won’t have much to post about online if they don’t make an effort to build a life offline.
Model to your child the kind of social media behavior you want them to follow both in time spent on using it and the content you show in your own accounts. Teach your child the value of separating social media from their real life. While using new technology and connecting to the online space can be fun and exciting, it should be used only as entertainment and some social media free time is still essential to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Know the privacy settings of social media platforms
- Read the social media’s privacy rules before signing up to their platform to be aware of how they deal with information.
- Refrain from sharing address, birthdate, location, mobile number, and even full name.
- Ask your child to use a nickname instead of a full name in their profile.
- Remind your kid to change social media password frequently.
- In general, tell your child never to connect with people they don’t know personally.
As the old adage says, don’t talk to strangers.
- Always remind your child to protect other people’s privacy too by refraining to post their friend’s personal information or photos without permission.
- Tell your child to always log out of their social media accounts and delete history if possible when using public computers.
- Turn off features that allow your child to post in different social media accounts simultaneously.
Make a contract with your child on social media use
A written agreement on the use of social media could encourage safe, respectful and responsible use of social media. What matters is knowing your child’s activities online and doing it in a way that would build trust. Some parents choose to snoop around their children’s online activities, but this can become harmful when the trust is broken and ends up being unable to talk openly with your child about social media usage.
Here are some things that you could include in your social media guideline for your child to follow:
Timing and frequency of social media use
- when is your child allowed to use social media and how long per day
- whether social media is allowed when making homework, on weekends or family meals
- which part of the house is your child only allowed to use social media – family areas of the house only and not bedrooms
- what social media platforms are they allowed to have
On posts and comments made on social media
- ask your child to agree on sharing some types of content and images only
- Restrain your child from uploading inappropriate private conversations, videos or photos of herself, the family and even her friends
- Remind your child to be extra cautious in sharing information to others
- Reiterate the importance of being respectful to others even in social media. If it’s not good to do it in person, more likely, it’s not good to do it on social media too
Rules to stay safe on social media
- ask your child to agree on reporting to you any upsetting messages or experiences on social media
- reporting the accounts of people sending inappropriate content or messages
- refraining from clicking random pop-ups that might take personal data or direct your child to some pornographic sites
- refuse to respond to friend requests or messages from strangers; if unsure, ask your child to call your attention or any trusted adult to verify the identity of the person
Should I ban the use of social media instead?
Social media has become an increasingly big part of the child’s social well-being and growth. Banning the use of social media also means restricting access to useful apps, sites and even games that could help support your child’s development. Just banning access to social media also doesn’t work as your child may be more tempted to sneak out the use and be more exposed to the dangers of social media without adult supervision.
Moderation is key and teaching your child how to navigate through the risks in social media usage may be more helpful in real life than just banning it and resulting in usage that’s hard to control.
Age for use of all social media depends. Easy access also makes it harder to monitor. The best way to protect children from the harm of social media is to openly talk about the usage, and manner to keep them safe in their online activities. Kinderzeit.org has a more thorough discussion about Kids and Social media.
The most kid-friendly social media will depend on the type of activities you’re looking at. Facebook for example is not allowed for kids under 13 and parental guidance is always recommended for kids on social media.
Social media is not all bad, it will largely depend on how it’s used. Responsible use of social media is the best way to ensure your child is protected from common danger in social media. Kinderzeit.org has tips for parents on safely guiding their kids on social media use.