Why do children use social media?
Children and young people use many different social media apps and sites. The most popular are Facebook and Instagram, with many others such as Snapchat, TikTok and Twitter.
There are lots of benefits to social networking. They can allow users to stay connected with friends and family. They can also learn many different things, from make-up or gaming tutorials to making slime, or how to create their own videos.
Like most things, there can be negatives too. For children and young people there are risks that you should be aware of, to help keep your child safe on social media.
These are some of the features of different social media platforms and what they mean:
- Reels: are short videos that users can create, edit and upload to share with their followers.
- Stories: a way of posting photo and video content that typically vanishes after 24 hours. However, they can also be saved to a profile and viewed again.
- Snaps: a snap is a picture or video which is deleted automatically once it has been viewed. They can be viewed for only a few seconds before deleting.
- DMs: direct message, used to describe private messages send on social media.
What are the risks of social media for children?
Children and young people can sometimes feel pressure to overshare online. Remind them that they shouldn’t share private things, such as:
- personal information, like names, phone numbers, links to other social media accounts or their school
- live or frequent locations
- other people's personal information
- links to join private group chats
- photos of themselves
- photos of their body, such as sexual photos or videos.
Explain to your child that, if someone starts asking them other questions, or suggests that they speak on a different messaging platform, then they should come and tell you.
Many apps and games give you the option to share your location. You should help children think about how and when they’re sharing it. Some of the ways they may be likely to share location include:
- tagging photos with the geo-location
- checking into venues
- sharing journeys
- location settings on your child’s device
- sharing images or videos that contain street names etc.
If shared publicly, their location could be seen by someone they don’t know. People could find out where they live or go to school, allowing an accurate picture of their daily routine to be built up.
All these things increase risk to children, of cyberbullying, stalking or unwanted contact (from friends or others) or becoming a target.
Some social networking such as Omegle and Kidschat.net promote connecting you to chat with people you don’t know.
This puts young people at risk of grooming or online forms of abuse, along with the risk of moving the conversation to other platforms or meeting up offline. You should be aware of this across all social media.
Young people can feel pressured into sharing content that could be harmful to themselves or others. This could be in the form of sexting or sharing nudes, or it might be sharing memes and images of others without their consent – which can be a form of cyberbullying.
DMs (direct messages) can be used to share very quickly and they have no control over how the image is shared further. Some social platforms have features such as disappearing messages – where an image or text will only show for a certain amount of time for the recipient before deleting. This might make users feel they can share more, but the recipient can still screenshot and forward the content to others.
With so many influencers and users sharing photos, children can feel under pressure to conform to the ‘ideal’ body and lifestyle. It’s important to talk about positive body image and help children see that what others post is a curated version of their life, and to question what they see online.
Children may be very focused on how many likes or comments their posts get, which can leave them feeling that they aren’t good enough, or not as popular as someone else.
Try to help them remember that likes aren’t everything. Instagram has an option to turn off likes on posts – that may help to ease the pressure.
Tips to help children stay safe on social media
- Review the location settings - Remind them, and explain why, they shouldn’t share location on posts, or public forums and chats, videos or with people they don’t know. Review the location settings on their favourite app or game and talk to them about what they’re sharing online.
Sometimes it might be appropriate for your child to share their location with a trusted adult or friend. For example, if they’re travelling home alone or arranging to meet a group of friends outside school, then it can be a good way to help keep them safe.
Remember: If children share their location publicly, it could be seen by someone they don’t know.
This can increase the risk of cyberbullying, stalking or unwanted contact (from friends or others) or becoming a target.
- Get to know the safety and privacy settings - Explore the safety and privacy settings on any app, to decide which are right to use for your child. Each app has slightly different ways to set up an account, but most have the option to set an account to private, to not allow friend requests, and to hide the user’s location. Explain these settings to your child and the reasons for having them in place.
- Age ratings and features - Get to know the age ratings of the apps that your child uses. Many have a minimum age of 13 years old to be able to sign up, but you should check the age rating of individual apps to make sure.
Don’t forget that you know your child best, and you might decide that they need to be a little bit older before it’s suitable for them.
Social media apps
Here are some of the main Social Media apps with their age rating and main features:
Age rating: 13+
Main features: newsfeed to share text, photos & videos, instant messaging, marketplace, friends, likes and comments.
Age rating: 13+
Main features: photo & video sharing, livestreaming, stories, DMs, hashtags.
Age rating: 13+
Main features: photo & video messaging, snaps, location sharing
Age rating: 13+
Main features: making & sharing short videos, lip-syncing.
Age rating: 13+
Main features: tweets (text with restricted character count), photo and video sharing, hashtags.
Age rating: 13+
Main features: messaging, friends, photo sharing.
Staying safe on chat apps
Read more about chat apps such as Whatsapp and Kik, and how to help young people use them safely.
Mental health and social media
Some young people may find it easier talking online, including to people they’ve not met in person, or they might want to find others who are going through the same things as them. It is important to support children to think about who they’re talking to and if it’s helping them to feel better. Ask them to think about the following:
- Does talking to them make you feel like things will never change, or do they give you hope that you’ll feel better, and things will improve?
- Do they stop you seeking support from other people, or encourage you to talk to others too?
- Do you feel better or worse after talking to them?
Just as in the offline world, bullying can happen online on social networking sites too. Watch out for the signs and make sure that they know what to do if it happens to them.
Childline has lots of information about feeling good on social media that might be useful for your child to look at.
Help us make a difference
Whether it's volunteering for us, challenging yourself with an event or campaigning, there are lots of ways you can help us keep more children safe.