24 January 2024

Social media is ingrained in our daily lives, even more so for our children who are the first generation to have completely grown up with the internet at their fingertips. Whether they’re checking in with friends, or keeping up with the latest news and trends, it can feel necessary (and normal) to have a social media presence. As their online world continues to evolve and grow – with new social media channels and tools being introduced so frequently), it’s natural for parents to want to keep up to help safeguard their children and how they use social media. This can be a lot for any parent to navigate, but we want you to know, you don’t have to do this alone. 

Last year, we surveyed 339 parents across all year groups to understand their biggest concerns when it comes to social media, their teenager’s use of it, and the challenges they face when it comes to addressing ‘social’ issues. As well as producing a social media guide for parents with helpful tips and advice, we wanted to break this down into a digestible blog series for you. Today, we’re starting with some guidance around how you can help keep your teenager safe online.

Using social media

100% of our parents said that their children have access to the internet at home, with 97% saying that their teenagers check social media frequently on their smartphones. According to parents, the most popular platforms for teens are WhatsApp (81%), Snapchat (68%), YouTube (67%), TikTik (66%) and Instagram (45%). As a parent, you may be concerned about the type of information they’re sharing on these platforms including their live location and personal information. For teenagers, this may seem like a bit of fun (because to them it probably is) but it’s also easy for them to end up in difficult situations. There are five things we think you should be mindful of:

1. Take note of age restrictions

A lot of social media platforms have minimum age restrictions of 13+ to sign up for an account. With this in mind, it’s always good to check the rating of each app/ platform before your teen gets started. But even if your teen may think that they’re socially savvy, if you feel they aren’t ready for a certain platform (or social media at all) just yet, have confidence in your decision and don’t be afraid to have that conversation with them. Not all teenagers will be ready to navigate the world of social media at the same time and that’s ok.

2. Share but don’t overshare

You’ve probably heard the saying that what goes online stays online forever. Even if a post is deleted later or is a type of disappearing content through platforms like Snapchat or BeReal where a post is only live for 24 hours, it can still be screenshot or recorded. Something that can feel innocent at the time has the potential to come back around and cause harm. Whether that’s a post that hasn’t aged well or something that sees a young person act in a way that doesn’t come across positively, it’s never good to assume that you will be the exception. Take it from brands like M&S and Pepsi, who have experienced backlash from screenshot culture in recent years. Especially with Instagram reporting an estimated 95 million fake accounts, you never know who’s on the other end of that profile. So we always recommend advising your teen to think before they post. How could this be interpreted? Is it kind? Would you say this post positively reflects who you are? Doing regular check-ins can help keep these questions front of mind too.

3. Set strong passwords and introduce two-step verification 

Keeping teenagers safe online sometimes means going back to basics, like looking at their passwords. Remember, passwords should never be shared so if there’s any risk that someone has access to your teen’s account, they should always update them immediately. The experts recommend that passwords should be updated every three months, so you may want to set a reminder to do this. Avoid the obvious – pet names, parents’ names, street names or any other information that can easily be found online – as this can make a password very easy to guess. 

Social media platforms are also now starting to introduce two-step verification, meaning that any new (or sometimes existing logins) will need to be verified by a trusted device, even if they have the right password. For some platforms, this is still optional, but it’s worth setting up with your teen if they haven’t done so already.

4. Identify and avoid harmful content

Our survey tells us that 40% of parents have had to speak with their teenagers about inappropriate posts. Whether they’re sharing or receiving, malicious content is classed as something indecent, offensive, threatening or containing false information. We know that 30% of parents find it hard to keep track of all the social accounts used by teens today, and 28% said that their child didn’t want to engage in conversations about social media either. But it’s important to remember if a person is sharing abusive or offensive messages, they could be committing an offence. So, teenagers must be aware of the implications of their actions or understand when they should be reporting certain content.

If you want to help your teen avoid inappropriate content, speak to them about things to look out for and set up content blockers and firewalls for any websites that aren’t regarded as safe. Also, help your child understand what to do if they come across any content they’re uncomfortable with, like reporting it to a trusted adult.

5. Watch out for online predators 

Online predators typically follow two main approaches:

  • Grooming – where someone works to build trust and a relationship with someone with the sole intention of exploiting them or causing them harm, which could be sexual abuse or obtaining inappropriate images and/ or videos. 
  • Catfishing – where someone creates a fake profile using someone else’s identity (name, pictures and any other details) to deceive someone. This can lead to dangerous situations, and people are often unaware that this is happening to them.

As we mentioned a little earlier, there are a large number of fake accounts on social media right now, and unfortunately, a significant amount of these belong to online predators looking to target young people. Online grooming crimes have risen by more than 80% in the last few years, with 4 out of 5 cases impacting girls (where gender was recorded).

If you’re worried about online relationships your teen is experiencing, here are some questions to ask to help them identify any warning signs:

  • Are they asking for personal details?
  • Does this seem too good to be true?
  • Are they trying to offer an unusual amount of emotional support?
  • Are they threatening to share private information?
  • Do you ever speak over the phone or on a video call?
  • Do their stories seem unusual or inconsistent? Do they hold up to questioning? 

We offer more in-depth helpful tips and advice in our social media guide for parents. To download the guide, click here >>>