Parenting in the Age of Social Media: Guidelines for Parents And CaregiversNov 07, 2022
Social media can feel like a bit of a minefield at the best of times. Most of us parents are still getting our heads around Facebook, let alone TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram… the list goes on! These platforms can have benefits for our children’s social and creative development, but there are also negative parts of these apps to contend with too—be it cyber bullying, exposure to inappropriate content, and so on.
Here are some of my top tips and social media guidelines for parents to help you navigate this new world and keep your children safe.
TikTok is one of the most popular social media platforms amongst kids these days. Itallows users create short videos with content ranging from dancing, comedy sketches, and even cooking demos. It seems every other week there’s a viral trend kids love to get involved with.
Whether your child already has an account or not, it’s a great idea to chat to your kids about cyberbullying and pressure to gain more followers. Children can often feel pressured into creating inappropriate content, or recreating dangerous trends, with the aim to get more likes.
Talking about pressure, cyberbullying, and other issues your child may come across while using social media is an important conversation to have before allowing your kid to create an account, but it’s crucial that you have regular check-ins with them about this too—especially as this can give them an opportunity to speak to you about anything concerning that they may have experienced online.
Private and restricted mode
If your child already has a TikTok account, the first thing to do is check if their profile is private. Setting the account to private means that strangers cannot see their content, comment on it, or direct message them. However, be aware that their profile picture and bio will still be publicly viewable.
Another setting to apply for your child’s account is “Restricted Mode”. Enabling this will help to block inappropriate content, as well as activate the digital wellbeing mode—which notifies the user when they have spent more than 2 hours on the app.
Another great feature is the Bedtime Block. TikTok has announced that teenagers will not receive notifications past their bedtime—9 to 10 pm depending on age.
A close favorite to TikTok is Snapchat. This app is essentially a messaging platform where you can send pictures and videos to people in your contact list that “disappear” once they have been viewed.
The fact the pictures supposedly disappear once viewed gives children a false sense of security about what happens to the content that they put out online. Make sure you have a chat with them and explain that what is uploaded onto the internet is there forever. Other users can be sneaky and find ways to save the content that has been sent to them—such as by taking screenshots or even recording it with another cellphone. These snaps can be used to blackmail or bully.
Followers and location tracking
Talk to your kids about who they are following and who is following them. Of course, there’s the worry that strangers can send your children friend requests—allowing them to exchange content and messages with your child—but there’s also the concern that they may connect with other children that might not be totally appropriate either (e.g. a friend’s older sibling or someone you don’t approve of from their school).
Snapchat also has the somewhat concerning feature known as the “Snap Map”. The Snap Map opens a map of the world and allows the user to see a live location of exactly where their friends are—if they have their location-sharing settings enabled.
Disabling location-sharing permissions for your child’s profile will mean that they won’t be able to access the Snap Map and, crucially, other users won’t be able to track their location either.
Instagram may feel like an influencer’s playground, but the risks to your child’s emotional, mental, and even physical wellbeing are still there. Cyber bullying, access to inappropriate content, highly addictive designs, and exposure to predators are all important issues to be aware of and discuss with your child if they wish to have an Instagram account.
You can set your child’s account to private, which means that the content they share will only be viewable by their followers—rather than anyone with an Instagram account—and anyone that wishes to follow your child’s account will have to request to do so and be allowed by your child before they can see anything that has been posted. Remember, their profile photo and bio will still be publicly viewable, even if their account is private.
Filters and body image
While filters are available on most social media platforms (and can add a fun and creative edge to the content your kids are creating), there are well documented concerns on how these are used on Instagram and the effects this can have on body image—for users of all ages.
Instagram in particular has a lot of heavily photoshopped content that can be easily accessed and consumed by anyone with an account—including children. This means that users can be constantly exposed to an idealized version of people’s lives and can lead to low self-esteem and a disconnection with reality.
It’s crucial as a parent or caregiver that you are having conversations with your child about what they are seeing and the accounts they are interacting with. Discuss with them about how not everything they see on social media is an accurate representation of real life. And remember that a lot of what they will be viewing will be chosen by an algorithm that is designed to put more and more content in front of them.
Protecting your kids online
There are more and more features and settings becoming available to help you keep your kids safe while they’re using social media. As well as this, laws and regulations are starting to become stricter. As someone who grew up in San Diego, California and became a lawyer there, it’s great to see that the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act is being introduced to offer greater protection to the data and privacy of children online.
Remember, an open dialogue and boundaries around appropriate and responsible use of digital devices and social media platforms are also powerful tools at your disposal as digital parents.
Purchase one of my Digital Parenting Guide Books for more resources on how to be a responsible digital age parent or caregiver.
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