Social media usage continues to grow across all age groups. For parents, it means added worry to monitor and teach kids how to safely use social networks. This can be difficult when parents aren't as familiar with them—and even the coolest parent may not be up to speed on the latest, most-popular network or platform.
Once you approve your child getting on social media—a complex decision every family has to make—here are some tips to help keep your child safe online:
Tips for monitoring your child's social media
- Have regular and open conversations with your children about using social media. This way they know it's important to follow some guidelines for their own safety. Teach them to not give out personal information—as this can put them at risk for fraud or theft, be kind to other students and friends, and let you know anytime anyone contacts them who they don't know, is older, or makes them feel uncomfortable. (See also: How To Protect Your Child From Identity Theft)
- Don't let your child join social media until they meet the age requirements. This is not only to stay within the usage guidelines of each social media network (they can kick you off or permanently deactivate your account if you're found breaking their rules), but the guidelines are in place because of legislation to help protect children.
- Make sure your child has secure privacy settings. When setting up social media profiles and giving kids access to computers, tablets, or smartphones, it's important to keep the settings to ‘private' and not allow people access to too much information. Some networks default to public settings, so set it up with the customized settings if needed.
- You can use products or services to monitor your child's usage. There are identity theft protection products for families, such as Experian IdentityWorks, which offers identity alerts and social media monitoring.
- Research the latest in social media. Stay educated on things like what new social media platforms pop up, on the latest scams online, and on how to talk to your child about online safety. This will enable you to have open conversations with your child and help keep them safe on social networks and online.
What age should children be allowed on social media?
The first step in protecting your child on social media is deciding when your child is ready to have a social media profile. This is a personal decision for parents and there are various viewpoints on when is the right time, similar to the topic of screen time for young children. Many experts recommend waiting as long as possible before letting your child have his or her own social media accounts.
There may be additional pressures your child feels from other children to join social media. Most social media networks like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter do have a minimum age requirement of 13. However, 20% of parents aren't aware of those age requirements. And there's also the chance that if you don't allow social media, your child could sign up without you knowing. While underage accounts are against the user rules and guidelines, there aren't really a lot of checks in place to prevent them and today's tech-savvy kids can often figure out workarounds.
Protecting your child on social media
Why does it matter if you let your kid use social media? There are some negative impacts based on various scientific research and studies including increased anxiety and depression, the risk of cyberbullying, and sometimes a decrease in real-life interaction. There are a variety of factors that weigh into the impact of social media and every child is different, but it can be hard to know what's happening unless you're regularly discussing how your kids are using social networks and responding to things they see.
How to protect against cyberbullying
Did you know that almost half of all kids have been bullied online?
According to DoSomething.org, 43% of children have experienced it and 1 in 4 has had it happen more than once. Keeping an eye on your child's social media usage and monitoring cell phone usage is the best way to find out about cyberbullying early on. Talking to your child about bullying and the dangers of it is important as well; unfortunately, DoSomething.org also reports that only 1 in 10 victims will tell a parent or trusted adult about cyber abuse.
Here are some additional resources to teach kids about cyberbullying and help prevent it:
- National Crime Prevention Council: Tips For Teens
- StopBullying.gov: Tips For Parents and How To Prevent Cyberbullying
- Parents.com: Tips To Stop Cyberbullying
Teaching your child how to stay safe online
Since kids now spend more time online than watching television, it's important to guide your child to set him or her up for success and how to protect their personal information as they grow up. Some of the same tips you follow such as using secure passwords and not sharing information unless its necessary are important for all ages and good to teach early on. (See also: How to Talk to Your Kids About Money)
Make sure your child knows what is and isn't okay up front, and check the settings occasionally to ensure they're still restricting shared information. Make sure you also adjust settings on every browser, app, and device your child uses. Also, talk to your child about not clicking links or downloading apps as this can lead to nasty viruses or malware on your computer, or risk your child being a victim of a phishing scam. You may also want to limit time online for your child and keep the computer in an open area of your house.
By teaching healthy social media habits early on, your child can be off to a good start once they get online.
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This article was originally published on December 1, 2017, and has been updated.