Social Media – Keeping Kids Safe Online

Social media is part of our everyday lives and there is no way around it. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat – we all know these apps. But, are they safe for children and teens? Much has been reported about kids being exposed to inappropriate content, cyberbullying, trolling and privacy risks on social media. So, how can parents keep their children safe online? First, let’s examine the safeguards already in place.

Most social media apps require users to be at least 13 years old.  In fact, 20 years ago, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) was created to give parents control over what information is collected from their children online. COPPA requires websites and online services to obtain consent from parents before collecting personal information from children younger than 13. Under the law, parents and guardians have the right to review their child’s information, delete it, and refuse to permit further collection of personal data.

Although legislation can help protect children, it’s important that you talk with your kids about using social media wisely. Here are some tips.

  1. Establish an age limit based on facts.  Some studies show that children younger than 11 years old who use Instagram and Snapchat are more likely to exhibit problematic behavior including having online-only friends and showing signs of anxiety and irritability.
  1. Monitor without spying. Regularly check your child’s privacy settings.  Most social media sites give you the option of making the account private and open only to those that have been “friended.” Check on what information they are viewing and responding to. Learn about new apps to make sure they are appropriate.
  2. Protect their privacy. Make sure personal information including phone numbers, location, and date of birth are not shared with anyone you and your child does know personally.  Only accept friend requests from people they know.  Make sure they understand that posting photos and videos can jeopardize their safety and character.
  3. Limit screen time.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screentime to two hours a day for children.  Children need plenty of face-to-face interactions and physical activity.
  4. Talk about social media use and keep lines of communication open. Remind your child that what they share online stays there forever – even on apps that are supposed to delete content.  Before sharing they should ask themselves: Is it illegal? Harmful to me? Embarrassing to me or someone else?  You can’t monitor your child’s social media 24/7 so maintaining communication and modeling good social media habits in front of your child can help them with their own social media interactions.

Social media can be great for kids to stay connected with friends and family, volunteer or get involved in the community, meet and interact with others who share similar interests and communicate with teachers and other students. But, parents must remain vigilant in safeguarding their children in the digital age. Luckily, there are online resources to help you navigate social media and talk to your children about online safety:

  1. Commonwealth of Massachusetts –
  2. Online Safety for Children – City of Boston
  3. Online Community and LGBTQ+ Youth
  4. Child Welfare Information Gateway
  5. Commonsense Media
  6. Parentology