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Protecting Teens on Social Media Platforms

Being raised in the digital age means that teens are growing up alongside the internet, cell phones, and perhaps one of the biggest developments of the modern age, social media. Parents, who often don’t follow social media platforms often express concerns about the safety of these platforms- especially the ones teens frequent: Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc.

However, with the risks of social media awareness, or lack thereof, being exposed as the platforms continue to thrive, parents of teens have no choice but to familiarize themselves with the threats that their kids are being exposed to with an online presence.

Proactive parenting includes educating oneself about the platforms, the risks involved with logging in, and ensuring that teens are staying equally aware of the dangers they may encounter while they’re browsing. 

Approaching Social Media

One of the first ways parents may think of approaching their teens being on social media is by “helicopter parenting” or being overly involved in their children’s online presence – to the point where they go through their phones without permission, demand passwords, etc. Though it may seem helpful, this approach may be counterproductive.

It teaches teens to keep things hidden from their parents rather than being willing to share what they’re doing online, and who they’re interacting with on platforms. 

Instead of hovering, teach kids about the importance of their online presence, and how their cyber-footprint is forever. Things they do online, from pictures posted to intimate details shared, live on in the cyber world, and require care and proper educating to properly maneuver.

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying has been a realm of concern for parents that precedes the birth of platforms like Instagram and Twitter. Instances of online harassment have been around as early as the days of instant messaging (IM) and other types of chat or messaging platforms. The risk of online bullying, and the consequences of it, shed light on the fact that bullies don’t need to have a face – they just need a profile picture. In fact, studies have shown that bullying online has superseded in-person confrontations due to the anonymous nature.

In order to keep teens safe from cyberbullies, parents (as well as other adults in their lives: teachers, counselors, etc.) should place weight on the importance of having a private online identity. This doesn’t mean that profiles should be placed on hard lockdown, but instead putting safety settings into place to protect each individual.

Instagram allows users to limit comments and interactions to people who have been following the user for a minimum amount of time, keeping users safe from random messaging and harassment. Instagram has also recently announced the implantation of parental controls – where parents can filter comments, viewable content, as well setting time limitations for the site. Twitter has also put similar safety measures into place. 

Adults are also encouraged to keep an eye out for concerning behaviors that may serve as telltale signs that a child is being cyberbullied: avoiding talk about their cell phones, suddenly performing poorly in school, etc. If these symptoms are present, it may warrant a parent to take a look through their phone and see if social media harassers could be the cause.

Privacy and Hacking

Those with teens in their lives should talk to them about keeping their private information just that – private. This can be done in a number of ways, from keeping last names off of social media accounts, being mindful about posting locations where photos were taken, taking school names out of bios, etc. 

Preaching the mindfulness needed when visiting sketchy websites that offer free streaming services (for TV shows, movies, music, and the like) should also be a priority when teaching teens about online safety, as these websites can easily access compromising information and are usually visited by those in middle/high school ages.

With more and more social media platforms leaning into business-minded approaches, teens can buy just about everything they need through apps like Instagram and TikTok. However, these shopping platforms are in their maiden years, making them an easy front for hackers and scammers to get their hands on valuable information. 

Teens should be aware of online shopping risks, and should only ever buy from trusted sellers, brands, and websites that place consumer privacy in importance. Parents should teach teens about buying through private browsers, which prohibits the tracking of data and cookies, and should take advantage of VPN services that keep hackers at bay.

Catfishing

Unfortunately, one of the biggest dangers that teens face online is that of catfishing, or the act of being fooled by someone pretending to be somebody else. This is a common problem on social media, and a difficult one for platforms to solve. In fact, it’s so common, that according to the FBI – over 20,000 people have fallen victim to it. 

Adults may become catfish victims and find their personal credit card information hacked, but teens are at risk of particularly dangerous consequences, including sex trafficking or exploitation of risqué photo leaks. 

Parents should warn their kids of this reality, not to scare them, but to make them aware that not everyone online is who they say they are. 

Here are some signs that a person may be lying about their identity online:

  • They come off as “too good to be true”, like they were made for the teen (lives nearby, likes the same music, bands, etc.)
  • Their profile looks suspiciously new. There are no tagged photos, only recent posts and a minimum number of followers.
  • The conversation leads to the asking of personal information (names, locations, and especially photos)

If an adult suspects that their teen may be talking to a catfish, they can:

  • Reverse image search any photos on the page to see where they’re sourced from.
  • Ask the user to send a hyper-specific photo to prove their identity (telling the user to “hold up a peace sign in front of their fridge with a carrot in their hand”, “send a video of you saying ___”, etc.
  • If the user is claiming to be someone the teen knows, ask the teen to confirm with the person in real life of their messaging thread.

The world of social media is full of risks and dangers that affect the teen demographic on a daily basis, being proactive, and having honest conversations with you children about the unsavory acts of some on social media should be the hard-hitting approach to manage and protect your teens’ social media use.

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