December 13, 2022
by Common Sense Media
Whether your kids are already using social media or asking to get started, it's a good idea to teach them some basic rules. Here are some guidelines for helping kids and teens use social media safely and responsibly.
- Kids younger than 6 probably shouldn't play in virtual worlds. If your kids can't yet read or write, they'll be frustrated in online worlds. Instead, look for preschool games that were designed for children this age.
- Set up accounts together. By creating usernames and passwords together, you can walk your kids through the basics of safe and appropriate online behavior.
- Make sure your children never share their passwords. Kids often give other children their passwords for help in a game. Explain that giving away a password is not safe and can be harmful for your child.
- If you wouldn't let your children have unsupervised play dates, don't let them go online by themselves. Remember, the social skills they bring to online worlds are the same ones they have (or don't have) in real life.
- Keep the devices in a central place. This lets you or other family members guide your child as they play online.
- Review the apps and sites yourself. Make sure you check out apps and sites before you let your kids use them. Don't settle for the most popular apps, games, and sites. Look around for ones that appeal to your kid's interests or have an educational angle.
- Set time limits. Make sure online play is balanced with offline play and other activities that are good for your kid's physical, emotional, and mental health.
- Talk about how to behave online. Teach your kids a good rule of thumb: If they wouldn't say something to someone's face, they shouldn't say it online.
- Show kids how to report misbehavior. If kids ever see something that makes them feel uncomfortable, upset, sad, or worried, let them know they should tell you or a trusted adult. Show your kids how to report inappropriate content or block other users. Explain that this is a healthy way to keep games and apps safe and fun for everyone.
- Talk about money and what it means to your family. Some sites rely on users to buy extras. Explain your family values around spending money online. Be clear about what you expect your child to do when they come across an in-game purchase.
- Follow the rules. Many social sites have an age minimum of 13 by law and for reasons of safety and privacy. Encourage kids to stick to age-appropriate sites.
- Tell your kids to think before they post. Remind them that everything they post can be seen by a vast, invisible audience (otherwise known as friends of friends of friends). With middle schoolers, it's a good idea for parents and caregivers to have access to what their kids are doing online. That way, you can be sure that what they're posting is appropriate, and help your kids avoid doing something they'll regret later.
- Make sure kids set their privacy settings. Privacy settings aren't foolproof, but they can be helpful. Take the time to learn about default settings and how to change the privacy settings on your kids' favorite sites and apps, and teach them how to be in control of what they share.
- Kindness counts. Lots of sites have anonymous features, such as Q&As and discussion channels, that allow users to tell their friends what they think of them. Rule of thumb: If your kids wouldn't say it to someone's face, they shouldn't post it.
- Anything on social media can be made public. Remind your teens that anyone can see what they post online -- even if they think no one will. Potential employers and college admissions staff often browse applicants' social media accounts. Ask your teens to think about who might see their profiles and how others might interpret their posts.
- Online posts can be cut, altered, pasted, and sent around. Once they put something online, it's out of their control, which means it can be taken out of context and used to hurt them or someone else. Tell them that stuff posted online can last forever. If they wouldn't put something on the wall of the school hallway, they shouldn't post it online.
- Avoid drama and hurting others. Help them think about the consequences of forwarding harmful messages or embarrassing photos. It's also hurtful to pretend to be other people by using their accounts or creating fake ones.
- Don't post your location. Many social media platforms allow kids to post their locations. Although it might be tempting to use these features to connect with friends, it's just not safe for teens.
- Watch the clock. It's easy to spend a lot of time on social media if you're not careful. Hours and hours can go by, which isn't great for getting homework done, practicing sports or music, reading, or spending time with others.
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