More teens than ever before are accessing social media on a daily basis. An estimated 90% of teenagers between the ages of 13-17 have used social media at least once. Another 95% of teens report having access to a smartphone with social media capabilities. With millions of teenagers using social media regularly, it is important to evaluate safe practices while also ensuring that teens and their families’ are aware of the risks. Use this guide to evaluate your own families’ safety practices, while implementing a plan to keep your teenager safe when online.
Know the Risks
Social media offers many advantages to teens, including the opportunity to be creative and to strengthen friendships outside of the academic setting. However, social media also exposes teens to risks like cyberbullying, access to inappropriate content, identity theft, and it can put personal information into the hands of strangers.
Teens are not always aware of these risks, which can affect their social media habits. It is important to educate your teen on the risks of sharing information in a public setting. This means:
- Discussing what content is appropriate/inappropriate to post
- Determining which social media sites are safe to use
- Open communication regarding the most common risks of social media
- Planning how the teen will respond when met with potential risks
Limit Social Media Time
Many experts agree that it is important to limit screen time, including the amount of time that is spent on social media sites. Studies indicate that too much time on social media sites can lead to increased anxiety and reduced self-esteem. Additionally, social media can be tempting, encouraging your teen to shift their focus from things like family time, athletic performance, forming friendships, and studying.
With the majority of teens today having access to their own smartphones, it can be harder than ever to limit social media time. Consider limiting social media and technology time in general, for the entire family. This models appropriate internet habits, while encouraging the family to spend more time together.
Take Advantage of Privacy Tools
Many online programs today understand how important it is to protect underage users. For this reason, a lot of them offer a series of privacy tools that you and your teen can utilize. These tools will allow your teen to enjoy the entertaining aspects of social media, while minimizing the most common risks. Just a few ways that you can ensure your teen’s safety include the following:
- Limit friends and connections to individuals you know personally
- Only share photos and videos to close friends and family members
- Ignore or report messages from individuals you don’t know
- Turn off location-sharing when posting images or videos
Get in the habit of researching the available privacy tools before signing up to join a new social media platform. Ensure that you and your family are using these tools to their full advantage before posting and sharing.
social media has become a popular way to share updates of new homes, vacations, nights out, and even the start or end of a relationship. Sharing this information online, however, lets others gather personal information like where your teen lives, where they work and go to school, and information about their family and friends.
It is possible to share the most important moments of your life with friends and family, without oversharing, with the following tips:
- Wait to share photos from vacation until you are back home
- Avoid posting content or photos that would prevent you from being hired or recruited
- Disable location apps that show your location when you publish content online
- Receive permission from friends or family members before posting images of them
Oversharing can pose other risks too. The information that you share on your public social media page can be viewed by potential hiring managers or college recruiters, which can be risky for teens as they begin to navigate their academic careers.
Many teens don’t realize how permanent the content that they post on social media is. Not only is social media content viewable by strangers on the internet, but teachers, coaches, colleges, and potential employers could all have access to that information as well. Similar to an in-person reputation, an online one can also be permanent.
Never Give Out Personal Information to Strangers
Communicating or confiding in a stranger may be tempting to some teens, especially if they feel like they don’t have someone they can trust in their real life. While teens might develop friendships with online friends, it is important to keep a few safety tips in mind:
- Never agree to meet in public
- Avoid sharing private information, like your last name, school, employment, or location
- Confirm the information that they give you to ensure they are who they say they are (look for mutual friends, evaluate the type of content they post)
- Keep communication on public forums and avoid moving to more personal forms of communication
Messenger boards, chat forums, groups, and group messages can all expose your teen to communication with strangers. By instilling a sense of privacy, they can safely participate in these conversations without putting themselves at risk.
Tweens and teens are especially vulnerable to online exploitation by those with nefarious purposes. You really never know who is on the other side of the text message. Tools like Instant Social Report help track down their social media/email information in a legal way.
Know When to Disconnect
While setting limits on teen’s social media and internet use is important, it is also necessary to teach them to know when to disconnect. Many studies indicate that large amounts of time spent on the internet, or browsing social media sites, can be harmful to a teen’s development of important social skills.
While social media in healthy doses can provide many advantages, it is also important to know when to disconnect.
Teens can use the following tips to find a healthy balance:
- Put the phone down during family time or meals
- Find ways to engage with friends away from social media
- Find hobbies or interests away from the computer or phone
- Role model appropriate social media use for younger siblings
Learning when to connect and disconnect not only helps teens practice safe social media habits, but it can also help them to develop important judgment and time management skills.
social media connects teens in a way that can be hard for older generations to understand. Teens have access to endless sources of content and entertainment, right at their fingertips. But, with this tool comes risk. Fortunately, by educating teens on the risks and encouraging time away from social media, teens can enjoy the benefits of social media, without being at risk.