How To Keep Social Media for Kids Fun and Safe

Mother protecting children from Social Media
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Summary: How to Keep Social Media Fun and Safe for Your Kids

Nothing ruins social media like rude comments, a traumatic video, cyberbullying, or online criminals out to steal information. If you can protect your kids from dangers like these, they’ll have a more pleasant time on social media.

With the steps below, you can keep their personal information safe while also boosting their self-esteem. That way, they create healthier habits both on and offline.

Here’s how to keep your child safe on social media:

  1. Talk about social media with your kids.
  2. Research about social media apps, and talk to other parents or teachers to see what options exist.
  3. Don’t share personal information like names, birthdates, addresses, phone numbers, or credit cards.
  4. Make social media accounts together so you both know how to report or block harmful content.
  5. Keep track of passwords and account details in case the account gets hacked.
  6. Be around when they use devices so you can gauge how they are responding to it.
  7. Set boundaries with your child; they need and expect them.
  8. Use privacy settings and filters that keep strangers, harmful content, and data tracking out.
  9. Install parent control apps for younger kids so you can make sure they’re safe.
  10. Watch for signs that something is wrong, such as disrupted sleep, depression, or anxiety.
  11. Set a good example with your own social media and device use.
  12. Take breaks from social media often by going on family trips, playing board games, or hosting a device-free family challenge and see who can go the longest.

Keep reading to learn more about how social media benefits kids and how you can make sure your children stay safe online!

If it hasn’t already, the day will come soon: the day your child opens their first social media account. So when they finally download that latest app, how do you keep social media fun and safe for your kids?

Parenting in the age of digital technology is not easy. Social media sites change constantly, privacy guidelines are adjusted all the time, and accounts get hacked — and those are just the technical aspects. Social media can also keep your teen up all night, encourage them to skip out on time with family, or make them anxious and depressed.

However, social media still has great benefits for your kids, giving them avenues for self-expression, a deeper understanding of the world, and social connection. To better understand how social media affects kids — and how to make sure children stay safe online — keep reading below.

How to Keep Social Media Fun and Safe

Learning how to manage social media is part of growing up. 45% of teens said they are online almost constantly, during a time when the critical-thinking parts of their brains are still developing.

Parents are responsible for stepping in to help create healthy habits around social media safety. If they don’t, there could be long-term consequences like less empathy for others, lowered ability to manage frustrations and self-control, and becoming less able to regulate focus and attention.

Here are some social media safety tips:

  1. Talk to your kids about social media.
  2. Do your research.
  3. Don’t share personal information.
  4. Make accounts on social media together.
  5. Keep track of passwords and account details.
  6. Be around when they use devices.
  7. Set boundaries.
  8. Use privacy settings and filters.
  9. Install parental control apps.
  10. Watch for signs that something is wrong.
  11. Set a good example.
  12. Take breaks from social media.

1. Talk to your kids about social media

parent talking to kid on couchTalking to your kids about social media safety isn’t simply telling them the dos and don’ts. It’s also about taking interest in what they do and creating an honest, open line of communication.

By showing them what apps you like and asking them what their friends are playing or using online, they’ll feel like you care about what they do and will come to you when they have problems.

Secondly, when you’re talking about social media with your kids, make sure they follow body-positive accounts and have good relationships with family and friends.

Social media is known to affect the mental health of users, especially young girls and teens. However, research points out that social media does not directly correlate to depression or body image issues. What it does is make it worse in someone who is already vulnerable, usually due to poor quality relationships or pre-existing self-esteem issues.

Finally, remind them that social media is not real life. What we see on social media is only a fraction of the truth: a very small and curated snippet of what someone chooses to share about their life. Remind your kids that they are not the sum of their social media accounts. They have a lot of wonderful, positive attributes — and social media only scratches the surface.

These kinds of conversations help build self-esteem, making them more resilient against the inevitable challenges they will face.

2. Do your research

If you find out your child is interested in a new app, make sure you look at the safety features, parents’ ratings on review sites, and news stories about that app. You can also talk to other parents and, more importantly, let your child research with you, too. This way, they understand the pros and cons of that social media app. 

Also, you don’t have to settle for whatever app is trending right now. You can find out what topics or things your kids like, and find a suitable app that is specific to those interests (or at least has some educational component). There are plenty of child-friendly apps already, like YouTube Kids and Facebook Messenger Kids, that will help create safe online environments for your child. After all, everyone has an app these days!

3. Don’t share personal information

Broken padlock over an idWhen creating accounts with your child, use unique usernames that don’t include their actual name. Also, make sure they aren’t adding their real birth month or birthday, address, or any other personal details that might give third parties or cyber criminals access to their private lives.

It’s important to drive home this point, as many online predators lurk on social media, targeting kids. It’s one of the best ways to protect children from online predators.

4. Make accounts on social media together

When you and your child make their account together, then you can both set up the account’s privacy and safety features. It’s a good habit to always check and optimize the security settings of every new app you download. If your child gets used to doing this, then they’ll continue doing so even as they grow older.

Setting up an account together means you can also make sure your child knows how to block and report harmful users or content. Demonstrating how to do this (especially to younger children!) is a must.

5. Keep track of passwords and account details

Even if you’re not using an app alongside your kid, keep their account information safe. If they encounter cyberbullying or identity theft, you need to be able to access accounts and make necessary changes. You can keep track of passwords through a password manager; here are the password managers we recommend.

6. Be around when they use devices

Being around when your child is on social networks can help you gauge how they are doing. If they get easily frustrated with things online, start to lose sleep, or are struggling with self-esteem, it might be time to take a break. Paying attention to when and how they use social media tips you off to issues before things get worse.

Many kids try to perform dangerous internet challenges that can result in injuries or cause harm. It’s important for parents to keep an eye so that your kids don’t end up hurting themselves.

7. Set boundaries

A contract, family tech agreement, or family media plan — whatever you want to call it — is a good way to explain expectations around social media safety. Believe it or not, your kids need and expect limits. It shows you care about them and want them to enjoy social media, not be consumed by it.

A family plan outlines things like:

  • What is and is not acceptable in terms of online activity? It will differ by age, but be clear about what they can and can’t do online. Ask them to follow the “What Would Grandma Say?” (WWGS) rule. It’s silly but effective — if you wouldn’t say it or show it to your grandma, then don’t post it. For older kids, it could be a future employee or their college admissions who sees their posts — and that can affect their future negatively (yes, this happens).
  • Who is in charge of certain responsibilities? For example, mom will install security software and do a spot check of account activity once a week. Kids agree to turn off their phones during mealtimes before 8 am, and after 9 pm.
  • What are the consequences if the agreement is broken? Does their screen time get limited or is the device taken away? Make sure they know this ahead of time, so it’s not a surprise and a cause for tension later.
  • Discuss times when parents need to break the agreement. For example, if parents feel like an account, email, or app has been hacked, or if they determine that someone is unsafe, they have the responsibility to review a child’s activity and intervene.

8. Use privacy settings and filters

lock on smartphoneAll social media apps have privacy guidelines, so you know what kind of data they collect. Location services can be fun for things like Instagram filters linked to specific locations or tagging your favorite restaurant. However, they can also allow criminals like cyberstalkers to harass them.

We’ve created guides on how to secure your privacy on the most popular social media sites, including Instagram, YouTube, and  Snapchat.

More recently, companies like Apple are developing features in smartphones and devices that can flag potentially harmful content (like child pornography). See what options your child’s device has and be sure to set those, too. Adding profanity filters is also a great way to remove swear words or profane content from social media.

9. Install parental control apps 

When you install parental controls on your phone or computer, like Bark, you can connect the app to your child’s social media accounts, devices, and email accounts. From there, you can monitor your child’s online activity, create internet filters for mature websites, and set alerts for red flags like cyberbullying risks or inappropriate content.

Parental control apps are especially great for younger kids because they allow for more control over the effects of social media platforms than in-app safety features alone.

For recommendations, check out our roundup of the best parental control apps in the market.

10. Watch for signs that something is wrong

Social media is a slippery slope. Your teen’s quick check to see if a recent post has any new likes can turn into a 3-hour binge at 2 am. Degrading relationships at home or school could make your child an online bully or a target of cyberbullying. Watch for signs that your child is struggling with social media so you can intervene right away.

Signs that something might be wrong:

  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Hiding their devices or activity from you
  • Spending less time with friends and family
  • Displaying anger, tension, anxiety, or other negative emotions when online
  • Odd activity on devices or bank accounts

11. Set a good example

Social media safety for kids is often a “monkey see, monkey do” situation. If parents are on devices during dinner, in the car, or while sitting on the couch, then it’s more likely their children will show these behaviors, too. More than half of parents in a PEW study said they feel distracted by their smartphones — and kids are smart enough to pick up on that.

Here are some ways you can set a good example for your social media masters:

  • Set boundaries for the entire family (parents, too) about putting down phones after the work or school day is over. Out of sight, out of mind for everyone.
  • Keep devices out of bedrooms at least one hour before bedtime, which makes sure everyone gets a good night’s sleep.
  • When you see something that upsets you on social media, show your child how you handle it calmly and respectfully (or make sure they aren’t around when you blow a fuse).

12. Take breaks from social media

have patience icon with blob background

One study looked at the effects of social media on teens, and the results showed that teens (aged 12-15) who spent 30 minutes or less per day on social media were less likely to suffer mental health problems.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we have to give up on our devices cold-turkey — but if you find that your child is doom-scrolling, losing sleep, or feeling more depressed, they might need to.

One way to do this is to remove social media apps off of your teen’s device home screen. Removing apps off the home screen doesn’t delete data, and these apps can be reinstalled anytime. However, there are also more fun ways the whole family can spend time away from social media apps or devices.

Fun ways to get some space from social media:

  • Get outside! Take a family weekend trip to go camping. Everyone can agree to leave phones off for the weekend (or stash them in the car). Preliminary studies show that device-free wilderness camps improve a child’s ability to pick up on non-verbal emotional cues. See if there’s one in your area!
  • Do a digital detox. In the evenings when it’s easy to slip into scroll mode, try to plan outings, get a new board game, or sign up for an evening ceramics or music class to keep busy.
  • Host a family challenge. If your family has a competitive nature, try to see who can go the longest without clicking on their apps. Most smartphones like Android and Apple have built-in screen time and app usage monitors; you can check these to see how much time you or your family spends on certain apps. Or, if you all go a week without social media, order pizza on Friday to celebrate!

Pros and Cons of Social Media for Kids

Now that you know how to keep your kids safe on social networking apps, they can have fun safely and securely. But in addition to being fun, social media can also provide real value to teens.

Kids can seek out social support, learn from others, and explore their identity and self-expression online. They can also learn important skills about self-presentation. Additionally, some social media tools, researchers have pointed out, have also helped many adolescents struggling with sexual identity to find like-minded social groups online.

Positive effects for kids:

  • Gain a deeper understanding of the world
  • Feel close to far-away family and friends
  • Find a positive role model
  • Seek support when feeling down
  • Be a part of meaningful causes
  • Create a positive digital footprint
  • Grow in creative expression
  • Improve digital and media literacy skills
  • Make meaningful connections in communities of similar interests or hobbies
  • Read expert news sources and learn about events worldwide
  • Learn more about nearly anything, including healthy habits

On the flip side, 54% of teens admit that social media distracts them from the people they are with IRL (a.k.a. “in real life”). 57% say it keeps them from homework, and 29% say that their sleep has been disrupted by social media notifications at night, according to a Common Sense Media study in 2018.

Infographic showing how much teens are distracted by Social Media

One of the biggest issues with social media safety is oversharing. Teens are posting their names, phone numbers, location, photos, interests, and more online. While this is great for building communities, it puts them at risk of being targeted by criminals, predators, or cyberbullies.

Teens spend a lot of time with their phones and on social media platforms. This leads to several other pitfalls, like poor sleep and issues with depression and anxiety. Keep these things in mind when you’re talking to your teen about social media safety. Check out our article about kids and PopJam for further information about the dangers of social media and how to keep your children safe online.

The dangers of social media:

  • Location services/tracking
  • Contact with strangers
  • Addiction to devices
  • Sleep disruption
  • Changes in productivity
  • Spending less time in real life with friends and family
  • Access to mature or inappropriate content
  • Cyberbullying and harassment online
  • Lowered self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Like envy and follower anxiety
  • More likely to do or say something they wouldn’t in person
  • Identity theft or internet scams
  • Advertisements
  • Dangerous online challenges
  • Desensitization to sexism, racism, cyberbullying, and hate speech
  • Distorted ideas of “healthy” relationships

The Next Generation of Social Media Safety

As parents, you are paving the way for online behaviors for your children, unlike any previous generation. Instead of Christmas roll recipes, we’re handing down digital literacy skills (and maybe some roll recipes, too). Social media will continue to evolve, and if you think about it, this generation is the one that will set the standard for how to handle it.

The rules will shift, the apps will evolve, and the risks will change, so set the stage now and make sure your children have the skills to carry themselves safely into the future of social media.

How to Keep Social Media Fun and Safe for Your Kids: Frequently Asked Questions

Want to learn more about social media safety? Read the most commonly asked questions about social media safety for kids in our FAQ!

There are many risks for teens on social media like data tracking, sneaky online scams, or lowered self-esteem. Teens can protect themselves on social media by:

  • Taking breaks from social media. Have your kids go out into nature, meet up with their friends in person, play a board game, or do a “social media detox” for a week — and have them take note of how they feel at the end. 54% of teens admit that social media keeps them from their friends and family, so make sure they have fun IRL, too.
  • Talking to an adult they trust about social media, like their parents, older siblings, or another trusted adult. There’s a lot of traumatic content online, whether they intend to see it or not. Don’t internalize it, talk about it.
  • Follow positive accounts. Make sure their social media accounts have plenty of body-positive and uplifting accounts. Find role models who challenge their thinking positively and encourage healthy habits.
  • Do their research. Do your teens know how their data is being tracked or who has control of their data when they’re using an app? Understanding exactly what is happening to one’s data is important so they know what to protect themselves from. That way, they can make sure their privacy settings are adjusted correctly.
  • Optimizing privacy features on all social media apps can help teens be safer online. Good rules of thumb are turning off location services, only connecting with people they know, and keeping their accounts private. 
  • Do not share personal details. Have teens avoid using their real name, birth date, and certainly not their address, cellphone number, credit card number, or any other intimate details. Cyberbullies or online criminals can use this information against them.
  • Make sure you know how to block and report comments, content, or accounts across all of your apps. Don’t be afraid to use this feature. Flagging inappropriate content like bullying, hate speech, or sexually explicit content that violates an app’s guidelines makes it a safe place for everyone. Don’t become desensitized; just because this kind of talk happens online, doesn’t mean it’s right.

It’s easy to get bogged down in negative aspects of social media, but there are a lot of positives, too. As long as you protect yourself on social media, you’ll find that you can enjoy a lot more.

TikTok has been noted to be particularly invasive and not straightforward about how data is used. That said, no social media site is completely safe.

There are pros and cons to every social media app for kids, teens, and adults. The most popular social media sites — like YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok — all track user data, use targeted advertisements, affect mental health, and can lead to social media addiction.

The dangers to every social media app include:

  • Location services and/or location tracking
  • Contact with strangers in comments, messages
  • Unsolicited content sharing (like nude photos)
  • Social media and internet addiction
  • Interrupted sleep
  • Decreased productivity
  • Spending less time in person with friends and family
  • Access inappropriate content
  • Cyberbullying and online harassment
  • Issues with self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Like envy and follower anxiety
  • Identity theft or online crime like phishing or fake accounts that host fake giveaways, job offers, or products
  • Targeted advertisements
  • Harmful and even fatal online challenges like the TidePod challenge
  • Toxic culture desensitizes users to sexism, racism, cyberbullying, or hate speech
  • Altered ideas of “healthy” relationships

The best way to avoid the dangers of social media is to reduce the time spent on social media in general.

The less time you spend on social media, the less exposed you are to harmful content, the less likely you are to become addicted, and the more time you’ll spend with people in-person. Experts recommend no more than 30 minutes a day. 

The honest truth is the most of us will end up on social media for at least 30 minutes a day, so take these steps to protect yourself from the dangers of social media:

  • Talk to someone you trust. Sometimes social media can get you down. You see something upsetting like friends who went out last night without inviting you, or feel anxious that your latest post doesn’t have any likes yet. Don’t keep these anxious thoughts to yourself; they could contribute to lower self-esteem or anxiety. Talk to a good friend or a therapist about how you feel so you can move on.
  • Take breaks! Go on a hike (sans devices), invite friends over for a wine and board game night, or do a “social media detox” for a week and take note of how you feel at the end (you’ll probably feel amazing).
  • Know how your data is being tracked. Read through the privacy guidelines of your favorite apps like FacebookSnapchat, and Instagram and see who your data is being shared with. Advertisers? Third-party companies? Literally everyone on the internet? This can expose you to attacks by criminals or predators. In terms of sharing info online, less is always more.
  • Setting privacy features. A lot of apps have sneaky features like location services that could put your safety ask risk. Is your account public or searchable on the web? This could give strangers access to a lot of information about you, which is not worth the risk. Make sure you are only sharing information with people you completely trust.
  • Use content filters. Some social media apps have filters that keep out mature, graphic, or potentially harmful content (like TikTok’s Restricted Mode). Turn these on so you can stick to the fun and positive posts that make you feel better, not worse (or even traumatized).

Remember, you have control over your social media experience. Don’t trust social media apps to keep your data safe or your experience positive. Use safety and privacy settings, take regular breaks, and most importantly, prioritize your life outside of social media to keep your mental health in tip-top shape.

Online Safety Journalist
Allison has an impressive research background and a drive to stay on top of the latest trends in cybersecurity to help others combat cybercrime and stay safe online. She has covered a variety of topics but is passionate about informing the VPNOverview readers on online safety and privacy, especially for children and teens.