Social networks like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are part of everyday life for most young people. They use them to stay in touch and share their lives and opinions with family and friends all over the world.

However, there are certain things to be aware of if your child is using social media regularly and some concerns that you may have about what they are doing.

To help parents keep their children safe online, Internet Matters, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes online safety, has created a list of the 12 most common questions asked by parents:

 

General concerns

I’m worried my child is spending too much time on social media

Social media can be engrossing at any age, so encourage your child to put their tablet or phone away for half an hour before bed. It will give their eyes a rest and because the blue light from screens supresses melatonin (a hormone that helps us sleep), it should also help them sleep better.

The app Forest encourages children to put down their phones by letting them grow a virtual forest that grows higher the longer it’s left.

Lead by example, and if you’ve got younger children likely to copy what you do, tell them you are putting your phone away as well.

Expert Tip: Consider drawing up a ‘family agreement’, where you discuss how you as a family use the internet. Find out more.

 

My 11-year-old wants a social media account, should I let him?

Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have a minimum age limit of 13, which means younger children who use them may encounter unsuitable content.

Explore the social network they want to join to find out what kind of content is there and whether you are happy for them to have an account.

Internet Matters recommends you follow the age limits set by social networks, but if you think your child is emotionally ready for one, or you worry they’ll set up an account without your permission, make sure they use privacy settings. Read more about this: How to set up Facebook privacy settings.

Finally, talk to them about any issues they may encounter, including cyberbullying and inappropriate content and if you can, get someone you know and trust to be their ‘friend’.

Expert Tip: The free Internet Matters app (Android, Apple) includes a quiz to help parents and children understand online safety.

Person on laptop

Cyberbullying

I think my child is being bullied on social media

If you child is using social media, they may encounter cyberbullying. Explain what it is and let them know they can always come to you if they feel someone is picking on them online.

If you think your child is being cyberbullied, the most important thing to do is to remain calm. They may feel awkward and upset and reluctant to talk. Try not to get angry and too emotional, instead reassure your child without judging and agree on an action plan together.

Save any messages and take screenshots of any cyberbullying posts in case you need to report it later.

Expert Tip: For more information and advice about cyberbullying, visit Internet Matters.

 

I’m worried my child doesn’t know how certain actions online can hurt others

Cyberbullying affects children in different ways. The anonymity of the internet can cause people to act in different ways to real life - your child may be bullying someone without realising it.

Talk to them about what cyberbullying is and explain how their online actions could hurt others.

Encourage them to think before they post, especially if they are sharing photos and videos that contain other people. They might get more ‘likes’ but they could really hurt someone.

Expert Tip: Read more in the Internet Matters article: Help! My child is the cyberbully.

 

My child is being affected by what people say or share online

Some children can be upset by social media - they might feel bullied, or be unsettled by things they see.

Encourage your child to talk to you if they feel unhappy and teach them how to block or unfriend people who post things that upset them.

Keep an eye out for any changes in behaviour and if they get upset encourage them to take a break from social media. If you think your child’s mental health is being impacted, take them to a GP.

Remember you can report abusive behaviour to the police, so make sure you keep messages and take screenshots of offensive posts, in case you need to produce evidence.

Expert Tip: The Family Online Safety Institute has a guide: Reporting Inappropriate Content.

Girl sitting on step with phone

 

Oversharing personal details

I think my child may be sharing too much personal information online

Revealing information online such as date of birth and school makes it easier for strangers to track your child down, at worst putting them at risk of stalking or grooming.

Explain these risks and encourage them to think about who will see the post. Make sure they’ve set their account to private, so information they post can only be seen by people they know.

Ask them to show you their social media account and show them how to hide personal information.

Expert Tip: Find out more in the NSPCC’s: A parents’ guide to being Share Aware.

 

My child is posting inappropriate selfies, what do I do?

Children post photographs of themselves for many reasons: seeking attention, peer pressure or to try and express themselves.

Talk to them about the consequences of sharing explicit pictures - that it’s illegal, and digital photos can easily be shared, which means teachers, family, friends and strangers can see them, which could affect their self-esteem and future prospects.

If you don’t think your son or daughter understands the consequences, they might not be emotionally mature enough to be using social networks.

Urge your child to post content showing what they like doing, rather than focusing on what they look like.

Expert Tip: The South West Grid for Learning has a useful guide with advice for parents and children if they are involved in sharing inappropriate pictures. Find out more.

 

My child is posting embarrassing images on social media

Sexual images aren’t the only type of picture that can get your child in trouble.

Everything they do online is part of a ‘digital footprint’ which can’t be erased. Once a photo is in the public sphere, it’s hard to remove.

Encourage them to keep their posts private and share with people they know and not to post anything they wouldn’t want thousands of people to see.  Posts or pictures they think are hilarious might get them in trouble at school or with employers in later life.

Young children look up to their parents, so let them know you’d never post anything you wouldn’t want them to see.

Expert Tip: Find out more in ThinkUKnow’s article: You and your tattoo.  

 

Some apps may share my child’s location even if they aren’t being used

Modern smartphones are equipped with GPS that can reveal your child’s location on Facebook or Instagram, allowing strangers to find out where they live.

Prevent this by turning off location services on your child’s phone.

Talk to them about the dangers of oversharing information online, explain that not everyone is honest on social media and some people create fake identities because they have bad intentions.

Explain to your child they should never meet someone in person they’ve met online without you being there.

Expert Tip: Watch mum blogger Adele Jennings show how to set parental restrictions on smartphones.

 

Girl looking worried on phone

Stranger danger

My child has hundreds of social media followers, what can I do to keep them safe?

On social media there can be pressure for children to make as many friends as possible.

Talk to your child about the difference between friends in real life and friends on social media, explaining that people can hide their identity online and pretend to be someone they are not, so it’s important to trust people they know.

Encourage them not to accept friend requests from strangers and show them how to block friends. Make it clear to them that any friends who make you feel unhappy aren’t proper friends.

Expert Tip: Internet Matters has how-to guides for parents on privacy settings for Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat and ooVoo. Find out more.

 

I’m worried about who my child is talking to online

Because the internet is anonymous, it’s easy to pretend to be someone else. Talk to your child about how some people create fake social media profiles, with false information and pictures, with the aim of tricking others and causing harm.

Explain that personal information, such as their date of birth, home address and school, should be kept private.

Remind them it is dangerous to meet strangers face-to-face without your knowledge - if a stranger suggests a meeting, they should decline.

If a social media ‘friend’ gets aggressive or says things that make them feel uncomfortable, encourage them to talk to you first. 

Show your child how to unfriend and block followers. Read more in our article: How to block someone on social networking websites.

Expert tip: Internet Matters has advice about online grooming. Find out more.

 

My child is gaming with strangers, what should I do?

Online gaming is great fun, allowing children to play virtually with people from all over the world.

Much of the information from the previous question applies here, so talk to your child about fake profiles and warn them not to give out personal information or arrange to meet someone.

Games consoles, tablets and mobile phones include parental controls you can activate to control what your child can see. Internet Matters’ interactive online tool shows you how to set them up.

Expert Tip: Find out more in Childet’s article: Online Gaming: An introduction for parents and carers.

 

For a comprehensive and easy-to-use resource of the most up-to-date information for keeping your child safe online, BT recommends you go to internetmatters.org.