By Jeanie Naja, Digital and Social Media Expert, Connecticut Children’s

Have you ever looked up from your phone and noticed everyone (your spouse, your kids, yourself, that stranger sitting across from you) is doing the exact same thing- on their phone scrolling through social media? And then you wonder what your kids are seeing and how much time they’re spending on what app. The link between social media and brain activity is real. We should be realistic and embrace that social media is not going away and kids are going to use it. So what can you do to make social media safer and more constructive for your kids? Set boundaries and stay attentive. Social media is ever-evolving and there’s always something new to learn. 

>Related: 5 Ways to Introduce Your Child to the Digital World 

After a series of congressional hearings, executives from the world’s most popular social apps developed educational hubs to provide parents with resources, tips, and articles on user safety. They also rolled out new supervision tools that allow parents to see a little more than previously available. To make life just a little easier, we extracted the latest and best ways to better protect your kids’ safety online. Read below the fold for more…

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1. Instagram Safety Features

Meta-owned Instagram created a user-friendly, comprehensive educational hub in collaboration with leading experts, trusted organizations, parents, and young people. They executed advisory boards and workshops to get regular feedback and guidance from experts, parents, and teenagers in their commitment to build positive online experiences and better inform the development of new products, policies, and resources.

If you have an adolescent or teenager on this platform, explore the supervision tool to access the family center. You can send a request to your child’s account to initiate supervision or vice versa. Once that is established, you can:

  • See the amount of time your child spends on the app by day.
  • Set daily time limits or scheduled breaks to help your kid manage their time.
  • See some of their settings and accounts they follow, who follows them, and your child’s blocked accounts.
  • Get notifications about their activity such as when they get new followers.

Take note while this tool helps give some insight into your child’s activities, your child owns their account. Only they can delete their account or change their password. It is recommended to use this tool as a way to spark conversation and talk about the ways your child uses social media. There are plenty of helpful articles and resources to guide conversations about today’s digital world.

>Related: 7 Ways to Reduce Screen Time

2. Facebook Safety Features

Facebook "create a post" screengrab

Facebook is not all that popular for kids these days but your kid may still have an account to stay connected with family. Facebook also developed a safety center providing similar

Facebook "post audience" screengrab

 resources and information about ways to use this platform safely. This platform has no built-in parental controls but it is encouraged to review relevant privacy settings together with your child. This can help optimize their experience and safety online.

From inside the app, you can tap the menu button that looks like three horizontal lines found on the top right. You can find tools to limit how long your child can spend in the app but know there’s nothing stopping your kid from making changes in the future. Follow the prompts below to get there:

Menu Button > ‘Settings and Privacy’> ‘Settings’ > ‘Your Time on Facebook’

It’s also a good idea to check your child’s profile information to see what they’re sharing with the world. Check out the ‘How People Can Find and Contact You’ section to make sure your child’s account isn’t easy to find.

Review the posting process with your child. Posts are made public by default but every user has the option to limit who sees their posts. You can also limit who is able to tag or mention your child and set notifications to review tags or mentions before accepting them.

3. Snapchat Safety Features

Snapchat is very popular amongst youngsters and continues to grow as their favorite platform to communicate with each other. Kids rather snap than text and often send silly random photos or drawings to keep up with their “Snaps Ranking”. To help keep kids safe, this platform rolled out an in-app tool called Family Center to allow you to:

  • See who your child is friends with on Snapchat, including new friends. This can help start conversations about who their new friends are.
  • See who your child has been messaging, sending photos or videos to in the last week. But not the actual content to respect their privacy.
  • Report any accounts you may be concerned about easily and confidentially.

To access the Family Center, you will need to create your own account and receive permission from your child. Take note they are able to see what you see with a mirrored view of features.

While there are limits to what you can control, Snapchat implements safety measures by requiring teens to be mutual friends before they can start chatting with each other. They also have a location-sharing tool to disclose their real-time location with a friend or family member even while the app is closed. They also have a ‘Friends Check-Up’ tool to encourage your child to review their friend lists and make changes if needed.

A mother and daughter look at a phone

4. TikTok Safety Features

TikTok is the most popular short-form video app today. When setting up an account, it is highly recommended your child enters their real date of birth to help give your child the correct age-appropriate experience. This growing platform offers a Safety Center with various guides, video tutorials, and safety updates. Within the app, you can click on the menu tab that looks like three dots in a row found on the top right corner. There you will find the Family Pairing hub to allow you to:

  • Link to your kid’s account and customize their content and privacy settings.
  • Manage screen time for your child’s account. (We all know how time can fly on that app!)
  • Manage their ability to search for videos, hashtags, or Live content. This is a nice feature but it is highly encouraged to have a discussion with your child to explain your reasoning behind your decision. Communication is always best.
  • Choose if your child is allowed to have a private or public account.

With or without the family hub enabled, you can help set your child’s account to restricted mode with a passcode to help limit inappropriate content.

Similar to other social apps, TikTok offers insight into details like the number of times a user has opened the app and a breakdown of day and night time usage.

Bottom line? Social media is here to stay. It can feel overwhelming to keep up with trends and new platforms but taking the time to learn and implement the various controls and resources available to us is critical for your child’s safety and digital experience. When used properly, social media can provide benefits in the realm of social connections, collaborating with peers, staying in touch with family, and giving them a platform to express themselves creatively.

>Related: How to Keep Kids Safe from Cyberbullying