Parts of this article was originally written for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
Social media sites and apps have become an important part of how preteens and teens communicate and interact. It’s often a wealth of good, allowing kids to stay connected with family and friends, share their creativity, learn more about the world, and more.
But, just as with other forms of digital media — cell phones, tablets, gaming devices, and the internet in general — it is critical that caregivers are aware of the potential risks of having their young people be active on social media platforms.
What’s Bad About Social Media
While we sometimes see the best humanity has to offer to reveal itself online, we also see the worst, as bullies find new ways to target their victims using digital and social media.
As opposed to “regular” bullying, which shuts off at the end of the day, cyberbullying is unique; for victims, it can feel as if there is no escape — it follows them home at night. Because of that, not surprisingly, preteens and teens who experience cyberbullying are also more prone to experience anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation.*
Hate Group Recruitment
According to the Anti-Defamation League, social media is a “superspreader of disinformation and hate.” Moreover, the hate groups that use social media (and social platforms connected with gaming) have found it to be an effective means by which to target and recruit young people, particularly boys.
For this reason, it is important that not only are privacy settings locked down, but also that children, preteens and teens are aware that this happens, know what it looks like, have a plan to address it if it occurs, and are prepared to make a report.
**This section contains information on child predators. If you are sensitive to this information or do not wish to read further, please skip to the next section.
As chillingly exposed by Roo Powell, head of the Special Projects team at Bark, social media platforms are readily used by adults who mean harm to children.
In an undercover sting operation where 37-year-old Powell posed as an 11-year-old girl on Instagram for seven days, 52 men reached out asking to connect with her, most, if not all, using grooming tactics. At least one of them went from an introduction to sending a video of himself masturbating in less than 5 minutes — to a girl he believed to be 11-years-old.
So while the answer isn’t necessarily shutting down or banning all social media (good luck trying to do that with most adolescents), having frank conversations and clear boundaries is critical.
Identity Theft & Fraud
As social media platforms become increasingly enmeshed with our online lives, the increase in hackers using the platforms to gain access to private information has skyrocketed.
Overall, according to research conducted by the Javelin Strategy & Research firm, active social media users are 30% more likely to be affected by identity fraud, and account holders on Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram are the most likely victims, with a 46% higher risk.
In addition to helping your tween or teen stay safe online, it is important that they are aware of potential scams, including people impersonating a friend, online quizzes, and so-called “once-in-a-lifetime business opportunities.”
As a general rule, do not ever provide personal information through online quizzes, and be wary of anyone — even if they appear to be a friend — asking for favors or soliciting money through social media.
7 Social Media Safety Tips to Share With Teens
This information has been provided by BLOOM’S trusted partner: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The following is a checklist to share with your young person that can help them take steps to keep themselves safe online. Download the PDF.
1. Check Your Comments and Images
Have you posted anything inappropriate or illegal, like threats, nudity, alcohol, weapons, or drugs?
2. Talk to Your Friends About What’s OK to Post
Agree that you won’t post embarrassing or hurtful comments or images of each other. Be clear that you’ll delete — or if needed, report — any posts that are inappropriate, illegal, threatening, or could get you in trouble.
3. Review Your Account Settings
Always ask yourself — what is on my profile and who can see it?
4. Know Your Friends, Contacts, and Followers
These are the people who can see, share, and comment on what you post so you want to be sure you can trust them. Block and report anyone who makes harassing, threatening, or inappropriate comments.
5. Keep an Eye on 3rd Party and Connected Apps
Some of these will allow you to log into one app using account information from another. Be careful, as this may allow the company access to your profile information.
6. Don’t Forget Mobile
When you use mobile devices like smartphones and tablets to post something or check in, you could also be sharing your location. Check your settings to make sure you’re only sharing what you want to.
You have the right to be safe online. If anyone cyber bullies you, make a report to the website or app. If anyone shares or asks you to share sexual messages or images, make a report to CyberTipline.org.
Parts of this article was originally published on the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and only minimally edited for clarity. Read the original article by NCMEC in its original publication.