How to Help Your Kids Navigate Social Media

Jennifer Johnson

Lawmakers in the U.S. recently called YouTube Kids “a wasteland of vapid, consumerist content,” saying that there is little educational value in the content served to kids—and that the platform doesn’t ensure that children are protected from potentially harmful videos.

YouTube Kids isn’t the only social media channel under scrutiny right now; it seems like we’re hearing about these apps and websites every day. For parents, the world of social media for kids can be difficult to navigate. 

If you’re wondering what to make of all these apps and whether your child should use them, read on for some helpful information and ideas. 

Pros and Cons of Social Media

Does your child want to be on social media? Probably. Should your child be on social media? That’s up to your family, but consider asking what your child would be gaining from social media and what they might lose.

The truth is that there are some positive aspects of social media, like communicating with people we love and being exposed to new ideas and people. However, these benefits come with plenty of risks, like

  • Predators looking to take advantage of kids
  • Addiction to notifications and scrolling
  • Risk of wasting time that could be spent on more productive activities
  • Cyberbullying
  • Exposure to inappropriate content
  • Susceptibility to feelings of anxiety and depression

The risks of social media goes on. We could list potential pitfalls of social media all day, but decisions about how your family will use social media fall to you. You know what’s right for your children, and once you have a feel for the apps that are out there, you can make informed decisions and develop a social media safety plan with your children.

Social Networking for Kids

Besides YouTube Kids, other mainstream social media networks are working to create spaces for kids. Facebook has created Messenger Kids, which is meant to be a safe space for children to message other children, and it sounds like the company is also developing a version of Instagram for kids. Plus, other kid-focused social media apps seem to be cropping up everywhere, so there’s no shortage of options.

Even if these apps designed for younger users weren’t in the picture, many children and teens are using the major social networks, like Instagram and Tik Tok. Most of these companies have minimum age requirements to create an account, but there isn’t much to stop someone who isn’t old enough from claiming to be older and vice versa. 

Making a Plan For Your Family

Now that we’ve gone over some of the risks of social media and we know that there are plenty—maybe too many—options for kids to start social networking, here are some ideas to help you keep your kids safe from online harm, whether you’re keeping your home completely social media free or introducing your children to social networks a little at a time. 

Once you have figured out what you’re comfortable with, you can sit down with your kids and outline a plan that might include things like time limits, handing in phones at night, and only becoming friends with people they actually know. Make it a two-way discussion, and listen to your children’s ideas and insights.

It’s also helpful to teach them about the dangers you’re trying to help them avoid. They’ll be more likely to live by guidelines you set if they understand the “why” behind them. Let them know that you want them to use their time productively and not get sucked into hours of mindless scrolling. Teach them what can be done with information they share online and how private information can put them at risk. Warn them about cyberbullying.

One practice that might be more effective than anything else is to establish open lines of communication between you and your kids. Make sure they know that they can tell you anything and that you’re there to listen to and support them. The online world can be scary, but you can help your kids have safe experiences.