From grade school to high school, kids are lured by getting ‘likes,’ and, even those who know better, sometimes bend the social media rules you’ve laid out for their safety.
There are plenty of upsides to teens using social networks: They receive a sense of community, stay informed about current events, and can experience an encouraging platform to explore social activism.
More so, participating allows teens to practice important values and social skills that will help them stay safe online—and offline—into the future.
Since you can’t be there to constantly monitor and ward off every potential creep, parents have to rely on a multi-pronged approach to social media safety.
You can start by helping your teen understand the risks associated with specific apps. (We’re focusing on ‘teens’ because the apps listed below have an age restriction of 13 years old.)
We’ve shared the main concerns with three popular apps below: Snapchat, Instagram, and Kik.
Smart usage of social networking sites means more than knowing the risks – parents and teens need to take action. That’s why we’ve also include simple instructions to using each app’s safety settings to your teen’s advantage.
What Parents & Teens Need to Know About Snapchat
Despite what you may fear, most teens don’t use Snapchat for ‘sexting.’ Instead, the platform is popular for carrying on private conversations, inside jokes, and sending silly photos in multi-day streaks – all activities that are more difficult to enjoy between friends in front of the larger audiences on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Parents, if you’re still not so sure about Snapchat, there’s plenty of info out there to help you understand the app, including HighYa’s own Is Snapchat Safe? Keeping Your Kids Safe on Social Media.
Instead, what important points do your kids need to know?
1. Snapchat Pics Are Forever
Because photos supposedly evaporate instantly, many young users might find themselves more inclined to send inappropriate pics because they think there’s little risk that their photos will be shared on the internet.
While Snapchat does notify the sender if the person receiving it takes a screengrab, there’s a fairly common workaround: The recipient can use a digital camera to take the screenshot, so the photo that supposedly disappeared could be saved on someone else’s device.
Bottom line? Make sure your child understands that, despite the self-destruct function, Snapchat photos can still be captured with a screenshot and end up being shared online.
2. Snapchat Owns the Rights to Your Snaps – Forever
In simpler terms, your child or teen needs to know that Snapchat can use their name, likeness, or voice in an ad anytime they please – and users have no rights to be paid for their pictures.
3. You’re Responsible for What You Send on Snapchat
Most kids and teens don’t think of the consequences of their actions on social media beyond judgment by their peers. But, once you create a Snapchat account, a user’s responsibility extends to whatever happens while you’re logged on.
Family Share cautions parents to explain that this responsibility extends even to underage users. To illustrate the point, they share the story of one 15-year-old boy who exchanged Snaps with a 14-year-old girl.
In a nutshell, the young girl progressed to sending inappropriate snaps, which the boy saved on his phone. When the boy’s mother later discovered the pictures, she learned that they could be considered child pornography due to the girl’s young age. If the 14-year-old girl’s parents had decided to press charges, her son might even have to register as a sex offender.
Bottom line, be sure that Snapchat users under the age of 18 understand that it’s not just what they send that can get them in trouble, but what they receive, as well.
How to Adjust Snapchat Safety Settings for Teens
When it comes to guiding their behavior, there’s no replacing talking to your teen about the importance of making smart decisions on Snapchat. However, there are extra steps you can take to minimize their risk of being contacted by unsavory strangers:
- Click the Menu button in the lower right corner to access settings.
- By “Send me Snaps,” be sure it says “My Friends” not “Everyone.”
By changing the settings, only people that your teen has added as a friend in Snapchat will be able to send them media.
A modified version, "Snapkidz," is available for children younger than 13. They can still take Snaps, draw on them and create captions. However, the similarities end there. The function of sending or receiving Snaps is not supported. The entire experience occurs on the user's device where their Snaps are saved.
What Parents & Teens Need to Know About Instagram
Instagram allows you to snap pics and share in seconds. While older generations might still feel befuddled at why teens are so interested in sharing their pics, parents should take a more proactive approach—according to Nielsen, Instagram is the top-photo-sharing site among minors between the ages of 12-to-17.
To keep your teen safe on Instagram, be sure to share the following information:
1. Instagram’s Default Setting is ‘Public’
Unless a user changes their settings, anyone can see (and share) what you post. And we mean anyone – even people without an Instagram account can view photos.
The downsides of attracting unwanted attention can be less obvious to young users, since most teens are more interested in getting likes than they are screening out strangers.
But, the risks aren’t limited to being followed on Instagram. Be sure your teen understands that obsessive creepers have switched over to stalking users in the real world. And, with Instagram’s new search bar feature, being found is easier than ever.
To minimize the chances of being spotted and stalked (on or offline) by anyone with ill intentions, your child will need to adjust their privacy settings. (See how to in the next section.)
However, it’s also important that they never post Instagram pictures that show identifiable location features. By this, we mean a street sign, the front of a school, or statue in the park—anything that would allow a stranger to figure out where they’re going.
2. Location Tagging Broadcasts Where They’ll Be to Strangers
Spotting identifying features of a popular hangout spot isn’t the only way a stranger can figure out where your teen might be found. Users often tag places that they’re planning on meeting up on a map.
While young users might think location tagging is an easy way to make sure no friend gets left behind, it also makes it even easier for unsavory characters to learn specifics of where they’ll be, and shouldn’t be used under any circumstances.
How to Adjust Instagram Safety Settings for Teens
By setting your teen’s account to “private,” posts will only be visible to followers that you and your child approve. Note that you can’t switch to a privacy setting from a desktop computer. Instead, you’ll need to use the mobile app. (Here’s how.)
Instagram Safety Tip #1: Sharing Images on Other Sites Makes Them Public
Remind your child or teen that posts shared to social networks (Twitter, Facebook, or Foursquare) might still be visible to the public – it depends on the privacy settings on the other network.
For example, if you post a private Instagram pic to a public Facebook profile, everyone will be able to see the post. Also, explain that sharing on another network will create a permalink (the image’s address) and that anyone with that link can view the image.
Instagram Safety Tip #2: Setting the Account to Private Won’t Block Existing Unwanted Followers
If a user has already posted pics before setting the account to private, anyone who was already following the account will still be able to see new Instagram posts.
What Parents & Teens Need to Know About Kik Messenger
Use with extreme caution – or not at all.
In February 2016, the FBI confirmed that the murder of 13-year-old Nicole Lovell was connected to the anonymous messaging app Kik. The young victim used the platform to message her alleged killer.
Nicole wasn’t the only minor to become a victim on Kik, and The New York Times raises concerns about the growing number of cases that involve predators using the free texting platform. It’s also been called “dangerous for children” by a self-identified sexual predator in an interview with Target 8:
What is Kik Messenger and Why Is It So Dangerous?
Kik is basically a chat room and allows users to anonymously message one another via usernames. That doesn’t sound so bad, until you learn that:
- Kik has grown to a community of over 200 million users.
- It’s used by 40% of teens.
- Kik is totally anonymous – you don’t even need a phone number associated with the account.
- Strangers can guess your username and begin messaging you without warning.
Since anyone can create a Kik username, users are anonymous and unverified. But, Kik gets even creepier.
Like the predator in the above video explained, strangers can pretend to be anyone they want to be on Kik. The messenger app has a Role Play function that allows users to alter their personal information (which was never verified in the first place) and select the age range of those they want to contact – and invite users of that age range to contact them.
The Target 8 team reports that “Within minutes of creating a profile and without contacting anyone, two people – purportedly teenage girls – reached out to chat. One of the teens had a profile name indicating personal struggles.”
Additionally, there’s no way to completely block contact from strangers on Kik. The best you can do is send them to a separate folder.
What’s the Safest Way for Teens to Use Kik?
Because of its anonymous nature, using Kik requires extra precautions. If your teen uses Kik, make sure that they follow these steps to safe chatting:
- Kik is meant to be anonymous. However, users often post their username on social media (#kikme), which makes it easier for weirdos to contact them. Don’t share your username.
- Disable “Notify for New People,” in “Notifications.” This makes it so that messages from strangers will be filtered into a separate list.
That being said, we have to agree with reports urging parents to keep their kids off of Kik due to the complete anonymity allowed by the app, and encourage parents and teens to consider Facebook or another, more secure messenger instead.
Additional Steps to Keep Teens Safe on Social Media
It’s easy to vilify a single application, such as Kik, for creating a dangerous environment. But the reality is that teens will continue to be enticed by social networks that offer privacy. And, considering that this generation is growing up in an era of almost total disclosure due to online usage, who can blame them?
But the problem isn’t just a single app or network – Snapchat, Instagram, and even Kik can be used for good, clean fun. Besides, if one does die off, another will rise in its place.
Instead, the dangers are increased by not-so-safe online practices. Help your teen be a smarter (and safer) digital citizen by teaching the following guidelines for use across every application:
1. Never, Ever Meet a Stranger In-Person
The only way that a predator can physically harm you is if you’re both in the same location, so in order to stay 100% safe don’t meet them in person.
What if you know the person through a friend of a friend, but haven’t ever met face-to-face? It’s still in your best interest to connect your parents first. Then, have the meeting in a public place, and bring some friends along for backup.
2. Don’t Talk About Sex With Strangers
Be cautious when communicating with people you don’t know in person, especially if the conversation starts to be about sex or physical details. You might think that an inappropriate conversation is funny at first, but predators are smart and can groom even aware teens into considering meeting up or giving away personal information after a while.
If someone persists in asking about your details or tries to engage in conversation that makes you uncomfortable, tell your parents, a teacher, or the local police.
3. Think About What You Share
Sharing provocative photos or intimate details online, even in private emails, can cause you problems later on. Also, remember to be smart when using your phone. Many of your favorite apps have GPS location options that can pinpoint your favorite location, giving it away to a stranger.
Parents: Remember That It’s Easier to Keep Your Teen Safe When Communicating
As tempting as it might be to demand that all offending applications are wiped from your teen’s phone, the only thing that really accomplishes is ensuring that he or she won’t feel comfortable coming to you if something feels wrong.
Instead, try to get over the aversion to sharing online, and instead, learn why your teen finds a specific app so appealing. Chances are that, with communication and the correct safety settings, they can be enjoyed in a way that’s safer that would be if it were hidden.
More on Safe Online Habits:
- Pokemon Go: From Accidents to Stranger Danger, Tips to Keeping Kids Safe
- 5 Facebook Posts That Put Your Home & Family At Risk
- Know How to Quit Social Media (and When You Should)
- How Pokemon Go Is Affecting Players in Unexpected Ways