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Can kids use Facebook and Instagram safely?

After Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram are the most popular apps among teens. While we don’t recommend the use of Snapchat for a few reasons, if your child is ready to start on social media, they will almost certainly want to join the same network as their friends.

We’ve put together a few notes on how teens can use Facebook and Instagram safely, and some tips for parents.  

What age is social media okay?

Due to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), most social media platforms are designed for users aged 13+. Any ‘all ages’ exceptions (such as Minecraft) require explicit consent from a legal guardian before you can create an account if the user is any younger.

The law has decided that 13 is the age our kids are independant enough to properly enter the online world on their own. Although, the final decision should always be made by their legal guardian. If your child is over 13, and you feel they have reached an age where you’re happy for them to set up their own social media account, you might like to let them sign up.

Facebook

Facebook have made many efforts to make their platform safe for younger users. For example, their controversial app: Messenger Kids. This was designed for users under the age of 13, to provide a ‘safe’ way for children to chat with their friends and family. It allowed you to set up a seperate, limited account for a child that can then be strongly moderated by the legal guardian. You can read Facebook’s statement here.

We don’t really recommend children under the age of 13 using social media. It could start a dangerous precedent, and hook young children from a very early age. However, the normal version of Facebook, once your child has reached a suitable age, is probably quite a good option as far as social media goes.

As Facebook is a large, listed company under constant intense media and government probing, their platform has become relatively safe. Extreme, and pornographic, content is moderated and removed, cyberbullying can be reported, and you have the option to block users.  

Facebook also has a very large set of privacy settings and permissions that you can use to customise your child’s experience. You can choose who is allowed to send them friend requests or messages, who can view what on their profiles, and even whether or not Facebook can target ads to them based on their browsing history. We recommend taking a long look at the settings with your child once you have set up their first account.

Safe enough, even, for a younger user – just as long as you take the right steps.

First things first, being ‘friends’ with your child on Facebook will allow you to see any information that they choose to show publicly. This will allow you to ensure they’re only posting appropriate content. However, keep in mind they will be able to talk and interact with other users privately – even those they haven’t added as friends.

‘Collecting’ large numbers of friends is often used a gauge of popularity among younger users, so ensure your child understands never to accept a friend request from someone they do not know personally.

Instagram

Facebook-owned Instagram is another good option for a first time social media account for your child.

Like Facebook, the app comes with fine-grained privacy settings. Users can block others, make their accounts private so only select people can view their posts, and opt out of certain features.  

In terms of features, compared to Facebook, Instagram is quite limited. The platform is heavily focused on imagery, and only allows users to publicly share photos and videos. This doesn’t get seem to get in the way of the platform’s popularity though, with 73% of teens using the app in 2017.

There is also the option to send direct, private messages to other users, comment on posts, and share Snapchat-esque ‘stories’ that delete themselves after a small amount of time. These can be shared publicly, or sent privately.

If your child knows and understands the inherent risks of sharing photos and videos of themselves on the internet, Instagram shouldn’t be a danger. However, it is recommended you ensure all possible settings are set to private to make sure strangers don’t have access to their account.

Firstly, ensure your child has their account set to private, so that strangers are not able to view their content. Secondly, explain to your child that they should only share their profile with people they know. This can be slightly more difficult on Instagram, as unlike Facebook, your real name is not needed to create an account.

Lastly, Instagram is moderated for explicit nudity, and extremist or graphic content – however a lot of risque materials are allowed. Speak regularly with your child about who they are following on the platform

Final words of advice

If you do decide your child is old and mature enough for an online social account of their own, we would recommend one of the above. They are the safest option, when considering some of the other apps that are available for children to download.

We would suggest first reading up on our 5 Principles to Stay Safe Online; a free resource we have put together, detailing our top tips for parents and guardians looking to protect the children under their care. These will be crucial in keeping your child safe as they enter the online world.

Secondly, if your child is setting up a social account on any of these networks, set up an account of your own, and follow or friend them. This will allow you to keep track of what they are posting publicly, and help to teach them what is and is not safe or appropriate.

As always, ensure you’re talking regularly with your child about the risks of the online world, and you keep an eye out for any warning signs that something might not be okay.

Lastly, ensure you set up proper time limits for social media use. Time spent on the networks can quickly get out of control without boundaries – even for adults.