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5 Social Media safety tips for parents

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Instant messaging is out, so how are teens talking to friends online?

My name is Cara. I’m Trend Micro’s teen technology expert. I give parents an inside look into the technology and social media that their teens use. And I share tips on how mums and dads can best address topics with their children without causing a scene.

Back in 2006 instant messaging was the most popular way for teens to communicate. It was the fastest way for us to get in contact with one another – no need for phone calls or visits. Instant messaging also brought privacy; nosy parents couldn’t listen in on conversations.

Fast-forward seven years and the secondary school set now consider email instant messaging as something uncool and only mums and dads do. Plus, we’re looking for more privacy – something only mobile apps can bring us.

We’re constantly looking for the next best thing when it comes to chatting with friends. So, which networks and apps are teens using to talk to their mates? Find out below and learn five social media safety tips specifically for parents of teens.


Here’s where we’re hanging out... for now:


The Snapchat app was first released in 2011. Teens have the ability to share photos, videos and drawings with friends and can choose the amount of time they want their content to be seen. Once the allotted time is up, their content is hidden on the recipient’s device and deleted from Snapchat’s servers.


Like Snapchat, Instagram lets teens share images and videos; but, content isn’t removed automatically after a certain time period. It remains there until the user decides to remove it.


This social networking site has been around since 2010, but it wasn’t until 2012 that it started making news – and not in a good way.

Cases of cyberbullying and suicide have been linked to the platform that allows users to submit questions anonymously if they wish. (Anyone could see how this anonymity feature would lend itself to nasty online behaviour.)


Social messaging apps are trending strongly amongst young people, and WhatsApp is getting a lot of play. Through the platform, users can send plain text messages, images, video and audio.

One major reason why teens love social messaging apps is that we get to send as many messages as we like for only 65p a year. (And that’s one less argument we have to have with parents.)


Like WhatsApp, Twitter is gaining popularity with the under-18 crowd. A major reason why we prefer this online social network is that our parents are less likely to be using it or “following” us. (Did I mention that we like privacy?)

Additionally, Twitter cuts out a lot of the drama that we’re more likely to experience on a site like Facebook. This isn’t to say that Facebook offers more opportunities for questionable behaviour exactly, but it’s the network we’ve become the most familiar with. Teens have gotten very comfortable with Facebook and fully understand how to use it for good and evil.


Facebook gets an honorable mention, but along with instant messaging it’s losing its popularity. Teens are tiring of the social network due to all of the new layout changes and the fact that it isn’t the newest way to communicate. We always want to try the newest and coolest apps to communicate with friends.


1. Be familiar with the privacy settings

Each of the platforms mentioned has its own set of privacy settings that would take loads of time to delve into one by one. Here are links to online safety guidelines for each of platforms:


2. Remind your teen about the long, long life of online content

As teens, we live a lot of our lives in the here and now. We sometimes forget that our tweets, comments, pics and videos live beyond our memory of posting them. (Who knows how many images we’ve been tagged in?) And we’ve been known to overlook the fact that even ‘private’ electronic messages get spread like crazy.

Once incriminating content gets in the wrong hands – whether through hacking, stealing or simply sharing – it’s impossible to delete all the existing digital and hard copy files. While online privacy should be stressed, teens need to be reminded that there’s no such thing as ‘truly private’ when it comes to social posting.


3. Help your teen build a positive online reputation for a successful future

Maybe your children already know that posted online content has the shelf life of forever. But do they know which content will open doors and have future employers, universities and financial institutions take them seriously?.

Here are some steps that will help your teen build a positive online reputation:

  • Do an online audit of what they’ve created and what’s been created about them.
  • Delete content that shines a bad light on their character. This doesn’t mean that the content is gone for good, but at least your kids are taking steps to minimize damage..
  • Review email and social media handles; make sure they aren’t silly or offensive.
  • Create positive content like a blog or an online portfolio of accomplishments.
  • Continue to update the blog or portfolio with the latest awards, volunteer experience and personal-growth achievements.


4. Know that we can overshare our feelings, too

We always hear of oversharing, when it comes to sexting or posting identifying info like a birth date, address, phone number or school name. But young people can also make the mistake of being too loose with their innermost thoughts and fears.

A teen who posts private feelings easily becomes a cyberbully’s target. Nasty social media users prowl around networks, ready to pounce on the first sign of perceived weakness they see.

Make sure your kids know that insecurities should be saved for face-to-face conversations with close friends and family.


5. Be a consistent cyber mentor

For the most part, we young people are as concerned as you are about our online safety and reputations. The last thing any of us wants is to be haunted by pictures, videos or comments documenting our bad choices.

What we need from you is guidance in how we should act and react throughout challenging cyber incidents. Talking about social media safety once or twice isn’t enough; make it an ongoing conversation that ultimately gives us the confidence to make the right decisions.

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