Although this isn’t necessarily something I would have placed within my role as a psychologist, I get a lot of questions from parents about whether they should allow their teens to use social media apps. It makes sense – parents are concerned about their child’s safety and well-being, and what teens are doing on their phone or on-line is an important aspect. Because of this, I decided to write down my thoughts for social media apps in general, as well as some specifics about the popular teen/tween apps that I’m familiar with.
First of all, here are a few important truths about every social media app:
Your child needs to be at least somewhat trustworthy and responsible in order to use any of these apps. There is always a way to do something that is potentially dangerous, mean, revealing, or rule-breaking, no matter how vigilant you are as a parent.
Kids and teens have difficulty thinking through the consequences of their actions. It’s not their fault – the decision-making part of their brain just isn’t fully developed yet. Don’t assume that they understand what might happen if they post a nude picture of themselves or a rude comment toward someone else. They may need your help to understand the full consequences of their actions on social media.
Almost everything can be deleted. You can never be completely sure of what your child is saying or who they are talking to, because most likely, they can delete it before you ever see it. Again, some level of trust is required to allow your child to use all of these.
With most of these, it’s possible to have multiple accounts. Be sure you’re aware of all your child’s accounts and not just one of them. For example, many of my clients have multiple Instagram and Twitter accounts, and switch back and forth between these all the time.
These are really tough to control if you have a child who is determined to use them. They can access these sites from pretty much anybody’s computer or phone, and they can set their account so that you aren’t able to find it or see it. This is definitely a worst-case kind of scenario, and I hope this won’t apply to you and your kids, but just be aware that this can and does happen.
With those general tips in mind, here are my “reviews” of four apps that are popular with teens and tweens.
Facebook: Facebook is the “original” social networking site. (Okay, not really, but the first of the apps that are still used today.) Most teens who have a Facebook account don’t use it very frequently – it just isn’t as popular for the younger generation as it is for adults. They want to have an account but don’t tend to engage on it much – think of it kind of like a phone book, where everyone has an account and is listed, but there’s not much interaction going on.
Pros: This is an easy way for teens to stay in touch with their friends and see what they are up to. It can be a good way for them to maintain connections with friends who go to different schools or live in different cities. It’s fairly easy as a parent to monitor your child’s Facebook profile, as long as you are Facebook friends with them. It’s also a fun way to get to see who your child’s friends are because you can often see their pictures and posts. Although the privacy settings can be tricky, if you take them time to figure them out, they are actually really helpful.
Cons: The privacy settings can be a bit tricky to figure out, leading to people being able to view your child’s profile who you don’t want to. In addition, if your child is tech savvy, they can figure out how to post things that you aren’t able to see, even if you’re friends with them. There is a setting that says “post to everyone except (fill in the blank)” and so they could post status updates that you aren’t able to see.
Tips: To prevent strangers from interacting with your child, you can set your child’s profile to “private” so that no one can view their profile or message them unless your child sends that person a friend request. You may also want to make a rule that they are only allowed to friend people who they know in real life. If you’re concerned about who they’re talking to or worried they may block you from seeing their posts, you may want to consider telling them they need to give you their password so that you can access to their account.
Instagram: Instagram is a photo editing and sharing website/app that is pretty popular right now. It’s completely based around pictures, so you post a photo and then people can like it or comment on it.
Pros: Instagram is fun! It’s great for those who enjoy taking photos and documenting their lives, and it’s fun to see other people’s photos as well. As long as you follow your child, they can’t block you from seeing their posts.
Cons: The default privacy setting is that everyone who has an Instagram account can see your child’s pictures. There are a lot of creepy people on Instagram who troll around looking for photos.
Tips: Be sure to change the privacy settings right away so that only your child’s “followers” can see their posts. This is an important app to only allow followers that your child knows in real life, since they will be posting so many pictures of themselves. I would definitely have a talk with your child before they get on Instagram to clarify what is okay and what’s not okay in terms of posting – bathing suits, shirts off, etc.
Twitter: I stumbled across a great guide explaining Twitter called Momthisishowtwitterworks. Check it out if you’re interested – it’s pretty helpful! Basically you can post any update you want that’s under 160 characters. Twitter has actually become very similar to Facebook, but teens seem to be using it much more in their daily lives.
Pros: A lot of social connecting happens on Twitter. Many teens have lots of conversations with their friends on this site. Teens can also connect with other people who share their interests. They don’t have to reveal much about themselves on this site if they don’t want to.
Cons: It’s kind of hard to prevent strangers from seeing posts on Twitter. While there are privacy settings, almost no one keeps their tweets private. Many people will want to follow your child, and sometimes it can even be difficult to tell if they know the person or not since they may not use their real name in their account. Lots of teenage conflict and drama happens on Twitter for some reason. Fights and bullying can happen here fairly easily. People tweet often and quickly, so this one is another one where it can be really easy to forget to think through the consequences of a post.
Tips: Follow your child’s account and keep an eye on what they’re tweeting, who they’re following, and what kind of conversations they’re having with others. If you feel like it’s necessary, make your child’s account private.
Snapchat: Snapchat is a little different from the other apps here, because it’s more similar to texting than it is to a website. You can take a picture, draw or type on it, then send it to a friend. They can only view it for a few seconds before it disappears forever.
Pros: The pictures your child takes will only show up for the people they send them to. They have to directly approve anyone who asks to Snapchat with them, so it’s easy to be sure they’re not Snapchatting with strangers. If someone takes a screenshot of a photo your child sent, they will get an alert telling them this, so they can know if any of their pictures have been saved.
Cons: You as the parent will most likely never see any of your child’s Snapchats, since they can’t be viewed after they are sent, and the ones sent to them can only be viewed for a few seconds. This makes it easy for them to send pics that you wouldn’t approve of and you will never know about it. A lot of sexual and revealing pictures get sent on Snapchat.
Tips: I’d definitely make sure your child is only friends with people they know and trust. You can ask to see who they’ve been sending and receiving Snapchats from, even though you can’t see the pictures themselves.
Do you have any other questions that I didn’t answer or anything you’d like to add? Are there other apps you want me to review? I’m sure I’m missing some important tips here, so I’d love to hear any you have to share!