Most social media sites prohibit anyone under the age of 13 from accessing their platforms. However, the truth is that it’s relatively easy for anyone to create a fake profile or take other steps to evade that rule. Furthermore, users under the age of 18 may not be emotionally mature enough to use social media sites in a healthy manner. However, there are a number of strategies that you can use as a parent to keep your kids safe while using sites like Facebook or Twitter.
You will likely be able to set limits as to how long your kids can be on the computer, on their phones or other devices each day. You can also use parental control tools to block access to sites that you think may be dangerous or inappropriate for your kids. Using parental controls gives you the opportunity to limit the number of social media platforms that your children can use at any given time. This may make it easier to keep track of who your kids are talking to or what they post about themselves to others.
Ideally, you’ll require your kids to surrender their phones, laptops or other devices each night so that you can review what your kids are doing on them. It may also be a good idea to require your kids to add you as a friend on any social networks that they use. Taking these steps allows you to spot signs that your kids may be talking to people who may want to harm them in some way. It can also help you spot signs that your child may be engaging in cyberbullying or other unsavory acts themselves.
Movies such as ‘The Social Network’ (on Hulu + Live TV) and ‘Megan Is Missing’ (on Prime Video) can give children an insight into the potential dangers of social media usage. Although these movies depict events that may have been embellished for storyline purposes, they do serve as cautionary tales of what can happen if you overshare on the internet. They can also help jumpstart conversations about how social media sites and other entities collect user data and how nothing that happens online is truly anonymous.
Research has shown a link between excessive social media use and mental health issues. Teens may be especially vulnerable to depression or other negative consequences because of their lack of emotional maturity. Therefore, be sure to monitor your children for signs of irritability or anxiety so that you can take corrective action in a timely manner.
It’s also a good idea to talk to them about how perception isn’t necessarily reality on the internet. For instance, a classmate who posts pictures of fancy cars may have simply borrowed them from a relative or posted a picture while taking a test drive. It’s also relatively common for people to use filters to create an idealized version of themselves that no one could actually live up to.
Ultimately, you should teach your kids not to compare themselves to what they see online. In many cases, people who brag about their money or good looks are just as insecure as your kids are and are likely dealing with issues of their own that they don’t talk about.
Keeping your kids safe can be hard enough without worrying about what they may do on the internet. However, good communication and remaining vigilant when supervising your children are still effective ways to minimize the risks your kids might face.