It can be hard to keep up with the latest apps that kids are using. Just when you’ve figured out how to talk to your kids about Facebook, they’ve moved on to Instagram or Snapchat. But here’s the deal: Even when new apps come along, adding new features such as the ability to disappear or track your location, they’re often not that different from other apps. And if you know what to look for, you can help your kid avoid some common social media pitfalls such as drama, cyberbullying, and oversharing.
Does a red flag mean your kid shouldn’t use a particular app? Not at all. Most kids use social media apps safely — and kids don’t always use every feature of every app. Also, you can often disable certain features so they’re no longer a problem. And of course, talking about using social media safely, responsibly, and respectfully is the best way to help your kid identify and avoid red flags.
Here are the most common social media red flags, the apps they’re found in, and tips for dealing with them.
Friends can share explicit stuff via messaging, but a potentially bigger concern is: what if an app shows content from other people that are really inappropriate? Think of it like a bunch of Facebook statuses from strangers who post inappropriate things. Your kid probably shouldn’t be following them, and if you’re lucky, they might not even see things that is for a lack of a better word, R-rated.
What to do: Ask your kid who they follow, and what they like to see on the particular app. Don’t make this a grilling session, make this an opportunity to understand what your child is up to. Use the app yourself and get a sense of what comes up in an average feed. Then try searching for content you’re concerned about and see how easy it is to find. Check to see what the app allows, can block, and whether users can flag violators.
Default Profile Settings
Many apps allow a user to have a public or private profile that is only shared with friends; however, some apps are public by default, which means that a kid’s name, picture, and posts are available to everyone.
What to do: As soon as you download the app, go into the settings to check the privacy settings.
Location tracking and sharing
Wherever you go your social media apps know where you are. Though you may only indicate a city or neighborhood in a profile, allowing location identification often means that you’re tracked within a city block, and your posts may include your location.
What to do: Turn off location settings on the phone AND in the app; check to see whether previous posts include location information, and delete it.
Real-time video streaming
Live streaming is just that — live — so it’s very easy to share something you didn’t mean to. Kids may use these apps in private (such as in their bedrooms) and inadvertently share personal information without knowing exactly who is watching. Though they may seem temporary, embarrassing or mean moments are easily captured and shared later.
What to do: Talk to your kids about why they want to share video of themselves and what they should and shouldn’t share. Talk about positive, constructive uses of video sharing, such as creating shorts using editing programs or creating an interest-based channel to funnel your teen’s creativity.
Though many apps have improved their monitoring and reporting features, cyberbullying is still a reality. It can happen on any social media app, but some have a notorious mean streak. If an app allows anonymous posting and is used in schools, chances are some teens will abuse it.
What to do: Ask around and pay attention to what parents, teachers, and other kids say about to get a sense if your children are okay. Make sure your teen understands how to report and block other users, and check the school’s policy about cyberbullying.