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In-App Settings to Keep Children Safe on Social Media

Social media is an integral part of modern life. Millennials use it, retirees use it, even young children and teens have adopted it. But when it comes to young people, the concerns about safety and privacy become amplified. Children don’t always recognize if something is harmless or dangerous, and teens aren’t exactly known for their rational and thoughtful decision-making skills. So what does that mean for their safety? Parents, you’ll want to take a closer look. 

The most popular apps with children these days are TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube, and Instagram. The good news is that all of these apps have policies in place to help protect all users, especially the younger ones. There are age requirements, privacy controls, and settings to block or flag other users within every app. But as a parent, there are likely still lingering questions about the security of each app and how to keep children safe from harm. 

Are there age restrictions or requirements that exist on these apps?

Snapchat and Instagram require all users to have an email address and be at least 13 years old, which is validated by a birth date when signing up. But parents beware: There’s no way for the apps to validate the accuracy of the birth date, which means any fake 13+ birthday will be accepted. YouTube and TikTok require all account holders to be at least 18, or 13+ with parental consent, but similar to Snapchat and Instagram, a lack of accurate birth date confirmation means that plenty of children and teens are using the apps without their parents’ knowledge. 

No child or teen should be using any of these apps without parental consent, and if that’s a concern, there are other resources available to monitor and track phone usage. FamilyTime and Qustodio are two examples of monitoring apps that allow parents to view what sites or apps their children are using and for how long. 

What are these apps doing to protect users? 

No one wants information shared publicly without their knowledge. Nor do they want to be contacted by unwelcome strangers online. These apps are doing their part to ensure user safety and security, but let it be known that the default settings are not always in the best interest of user security. 

  • TikTok: A newly created profile is public by default, but parents can set their children’s account to private to limit who sees the content. It’s also possible to limit who comments, reacts, and messages by changing the default from Everyone to Friends. But keep in mind, parents should never make an account for their child. Use the family’s account or the parent’s account starring the child.
  • Snapchat: The default is to let anyone see a user’s Story on the app, but Snapchat does allow users to limit who can contact them or see their Stories by selecting My Friends in the settings menu. Snapchat also defaults users to be added by other users in a setting called Quick Add — meaning that anyone can add another user without a request. Users can turn that off, which then requires permission from the user to add new friends.
  • Instagram: An account is public by default, but can easily be toggled to private in settings. For additional security, any Story can be shared only with Close Friends, to reduce the number of eyes on any given post.
  • YouTube: Anytime a public video is uploaded to YouTube, the video can be seen by anyone, anywhere. Keep in mind that a profile is private only when all of the videos on the channel are set to private. For additional security, the site offers a Restricted Mode for parents who want to control what types of content the younger members of their household are able to view.

What should parents watch out for on these apps?

  • Comments: Keeping an eye on what children subscribe to or follow is a good start, but don’t overlook comments sections. Some comments are harmless or irrelevant, but comments sections are notorious for attracting bullies or trolls, especially on video platforms like TikTok or YouTube.
  • Surprise videos: At first glance, a video might seem suitable for young eyes, but that can change within seconds. These “surprise videos” target children by starting with content that appeals to them, then shifting to content that is inappropriate by the end.
  • Direct messages: On apps like Instagram, anyone can send messages to other users, whether they follow each other or not. That means that a child could communicate with anyone else on the app, even if they don’t know them. In an extreme situation, this leads to inappropriate contact or even grooming.

What additional steps can parents take to ensure the safety of their children?

On top of the privacy settings, all of these apps have additional settings and functionality to promote digital safety.

  • Communicate: Have open, ongoing conversations with family members about the realities of social media (the good and the bad!).
  • Hide or flag content: If a post is inappropriate or unwelcome, all of the apps have options for the user to hide or flag it in an effort to remove unwanted content.
  • Mute or unfollow: Any time a user wants to remove a friend or contact on these apps, they have the option to mute or hide the user’s posts or unfollow them altogether.
  • Block: Additionally, users can block others if they feel unsafe or do not want to share any information with that user. In doing so, the blocked user will not be able to see any of the content shared by the original user and will no longer be able to see or find their profile.
  • Block location: Snapchat gives other users the freedom to see any other user’s location, but that can be turned off using the location function on the phone itself.
  • Filter comments: Instagram allows users to remove or filter out comments by word or phrase. This can be useful for parents who want to limit what their child can view, and can be found in the settings within the app.
  • Moderation: Each of these apps, and third-party companies like ModSquad, work to remove inappropriate content before it can be seen or shared by standard users. It’s not always a perfect system, but the effort helps control bullying, trolling, and catfishing.
  • And talk some more: Make sure children feel secure in talking about the dangers of social media. It’s important to create a healthy atmosphere where children can share concerns or experiences without fear of punishment or judgment.

At the end of the day, one of the most important elements to digital safety is talking with children and teens about the realities of the internet. Gen Z, which makes up nearly 25% of the current population, is the first generation to be raised in a world where social media is the norm. That doesn’t make them immune to the implicit dangers that follow. Understanding the safety features on your children’s favorite apps is a vital part of keeping them protected.

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Posted on March 25, 2020

Excellent Tips!

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