By Raising Children Network
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Social media is a big part of social life for many teenagers and children, but social media has risks as well as benefits. By talking with your child and agreeing on some social media rules, you can help your child get the most out of social media.

Social media for children and teenagers

Social media is a term for the online services that people use to connect with others, share media content, and form social networks. Some of the most popular services include Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, Skype, YouTube, Viber, and Snapchat.

Online multiplayer games, like World of Warcraft, League of Legends, Clash of Clans and The Sims are also becoming important social media spaces for young people, where they connect with other gamers and chat while playing. Gaming chat sites are also popular ways for children and teenagers to connect with others who share their particular gaming interests.

Using social media means uploading and sharing content. This includes:

  • creating online profiles
  • posting comments or chatting
  • uploading photos and videos
  • sharing links
  • tagging photos and content
  • creating and sharing game modifications
  • remixing or changing existing content and sharing it.

What your child gets from social media

Social media is a vital aspect of teenagers’ and children’s social and creative lives. They use social media to have fun, make and maintain friendships, share interests and explore identities. It’s a natural extension of their offline and face-to-face interactions.

Social media can connect children and teenagers to online global communities based on shared interests. These might be support networks – for example, for young people with disability or medical conditions, teenagers who are same-sex attracted, or children from particular cultural backgrounds. Or they might be sites for commenting on and sharing content about particular interests like games, TV series, music or hobbies.

Your child can get many other benefits from using social media:

  • Digital media literacy: exploring and experimenting on social media can help your child build the knowledge and skills she needs to enjoy online activities and avoid online risks.
  • Collaborative learning: your child can use social media to share educational content, either informally or in formal school settings.
  • Creativity: your child can be creative with profile pages, photos and video, and modifications for games.
  • Mental health and wellbeing: connecting with extended family and friends and taking part in local and global online communities can give your child a sense of connection and belonging.

Risks of social media

Social media sites can be risky spaces. For your child, these risks include:

  • being exposed to inappropriate content like violent or sexual comments or images
  • uploading inappropriate content like embarrassing or provocative photos or videos of himself or others
  • sharing personal information with strangers – for example, phone numbers, date of birth or location
  • cyberbullying.

Navigating the risks of social media

Talking about social media use is the best way to protect your child and ensure her internet safety. Talking gives you the opportunity to help your child:

  • understand the risks involved in using social media – for example, risks include being tagged in an embarrassing photo taken at a party
  • understand the dangers involved in sharing content and personal information – this includes not only content that your child shares but also images of your child that other people share, or posts and images that others tag your child to
  • learn how to navigate the risks – for example, if your child posts an identifiable image of herself, she can reduce risk by not including any other personal information
  • solve problems – for example, your child needs to know what to do if a friend posts an embarrassing photo of her, or how to talk with friends who have shared information that links back to her
  • think about and manage her own ‘digital footprint’ – for example, what your child uploads now might have an impact later in life. You could talk about what your child would like her digital footprint to say about her now and in the future.

Finding out more about social media
It’s a good idea to explore the social media your child uses. You could ask your child what services are popular and which ones he likes. You could also get your child to show you how they work.

You could consider checking whether your child’s social media choices are appropriate for her age. Some social media services have age restrictions – for example, to have a Facebook or Instagram account your child needs to be 13 years old.

But it’s often hard to enforce age restrictions on social media services because it’s easy to lie about your age online. Also, many services don’t have specific age limits. Others, like online multiplayer game environments, let you interact with people of all ages all over the world.

What about banning social media?
Even with younger children, it usually doesn’t work to ban or block social media access. It’s not a good way of teaching your child how to navigate social media risks and behave respectfully on social media.

And if you ban social media, your child might be more tempted to check it out when he’s away from home. Your child’s internet access away from home can be hard to control.

Setting up social media guidelines

Some written guidelines about social media use can help your child use social media responsibly, respectfully and safely. This agreement could be part of a family media plan. If these guidelines include your social media use as well as your child’s, you can be a positive role model.

Here are some things your guidelines could include.

Using social media
This might cover basics like:

  • when it’s OK to use social media – for example, how long your child can spend on social media, and whether it’s OK to use social media during homework time or family meals
  • where it’s OK to use social media – for example, only in family areas of the house, not bedrooms.

Posting content and comments
It’s important for your child to agree to:

  • not uploading or sharing inappropriate messages, images and video or herself or others
  • being a responsible digital citizen by showing respect in posts and when sharing content – for example, if it’s not OK to say or do something face to face, it’s not OK online.

Protecting privacy
Your child can protect his privacy by agreeing to:

  • not share personal information like phone numbers, location and date of birth with strangers online, or with people he doesn’t know personally
  • not add personal details like phone numbers or date of birth to private profiles
  • regularly check privacy and location settings
  • keep passwords and log-in details private and not share these with friends
  • log out after using public computers
  • disable features like posting to multiple social media sites at once.

Staying safe on social media
Safety essentials include:

  • not clicking on pop-ups. Some pop-ups that seem safe can lead to pornography sites or ask for personal or financial information
  • accepting friend requests only from people your child knows to be who they say they are.
  • Last updated or reviewed 12-07-2017
  • Acknowledgements This article was developed in collaboration with Associate Professor Ingrid Richardson, Digital Media studies, Murdoch University.