Social media has become an integral part of our daily lives, connecting us with friends, family, and the world at large. It is inevitable for kids and teens in this day and age to ask their parents for permission to use social media (some even use it in secret, as it has become a fundamental tool for communication and socialization among their peers). While it has many benefits such as connection, there are also clear challenges for kids that parents need to be mindful of (e.g., developing a negative self-image), which makes it essential to know how to navigate their social media journey.
4 Tips to Navigate Social Media With Your Child
1 . Adjust your approach based on age
When allowing your child to start using social media, it’s important to consider the appropriate age. Many experts recommend waiting until at least 13 years old, as this is the minimum age requirement for most social media platforms.1
Considering your child’s maturity level is also something important to factor in. Some teens may meet the age requirement, but as a parent, you will have a better judgment of their readiness. It is also recommended to introduce social media in middle school because this allows you to supervise their initial exposure as a condition for the privilege of using social media. Once your teen is in high school, there will be challenges to monitoring their social life.1
Overall, consider your child’s maturity level and readiness to handle the responsibilities of social media use.
2 . Set clear rules and guidelines
Once you have determined that your child is ready to use social media, it’s important to set clear rules and guidelines. Think about what content you find appropriate for them to share.
For instance, consider if you are okay with your child posting selfies or full-body pictures. A great rule that people often forget is to not post locations they frequent if they have a public account, or hold off on posting until your child has left the location.
Decide how much time they are allowed to spend on social media and who they are allowed to interact with. Is following celebrities or strangers okay? If so, which ones? Encourage your child to only follow accounts that make them feel empowered. Go through who they follow periodically and have open conversations about how the content makes them feel.
Setting rules can also look like having access to their passwords and ensuring their accounts are private. Your rules should be as specific as possible to avoid any confusion.
3 . Monitor usage within reason
In conjunction with tip #1, another important aspect of keeping your child safe on social media is using parental controls. Many social media platforms offer built-in parental controls that allow you to monitor your child’s activity and restrict certain features.
For example, you can set limits on the amount of time your child can spend on social media, block certain types of content, and monitor who your child is interacting with. On TikTok, for instance, you can do so by setting up the family pairing function.
Open the TikTok app on your own account and go to the “Me” tab
- Tap on the three dots in the top right corner and select “Digital Wellbeing”
- Select “Family Pairing” and then “Create a Pairing Code”
- Share the code with your child and have them enter it on their own Tik Tok account
- Your child’s account will not be linked to yours and you will be able to view their activity and set limits on their account
Among other basic controls, you can disable the ability to search for specific keywords, and set up a passcode to restrict the changes to the settings you set on your child’s account.
Additionally, research the available third-party parental control apps like Qustodio, Norton Family, and Kaspersky Safe Kids which enable you to delve deeper into monitoring your child’s social media activity. These apps have functions that allow you to view your child’s browsing history, and monitor texts, calls, and emails on the child’s device.
4. Foster self-esteem outside of social media
Parents should consider their child’s self-image and mental well-being prior to embracing their participation in social media apps. Children who use social media are typically exposed to a constant stream of images of “perfect” bodies, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy and body dissatisfaction.2
Parents can help their children stay mindful of these types of issues. One creative and fun way to do so is by giving them challenges that test their ability to recognize airbrushed or photoshopped images. This can help them understand that the images they see on social media are not always real or attainable, so they should not compare themselves to these unrealistic standards. This can be a conversation to revisit as youth grow older, especially during sensitive periods, such as around the onset of puberty and the beginning of middle and or high school.
Parents should also encourage their children to focus on their unique qualities and strengths rather than comparing themselves to others.
Overall, being proactive is vital in helping your kids and teens navigate social media in a way that supports their mental health. Social media is now a part of daily life, so these conversations are critical. Instead of completely avoiding the topic or prohibiting social media, you can use these tips to guide your child when the time is right.
1Miller, C., (2022). When Are Kids Ready for Social Media? Childmind.org, Child Mind Institute. Retrieved from https://childmind.org/article/when-are-kids-ready-for-social-media/.
2Rounsefell, K, Gibson, S, McLean, S, et al. Social media, body image and food choices in healthy young adults: A mixed methods systematic review. Nutrition & Dietetics. 2020; 77: 19– 40. https://doi.org/10.1111/1747-0080.12581