Social networking sites are a huge favourite with children, allowing them to stay in touch with friends over chat, meet new people with similar interests, and share photos and videos. Used appropriately, social networks are a great place for young people to demonstrate their creativity. As a parent, there’s plenty you can do to ensure your children’s experience is both safe and fun.
What you’ll find on this page
See our tips for talking with your kids about social mediaSee tips >
Advice on what information your child should share online and tips from Facebook on how to keep their personal details private.
Risks of social networking for children
The more you know about the kind of social networking sites your child belongs to and what information they like to share, the more likely you’ll be able to keep them safe:
- The lower age limit for most social networking sites is 13
- The most popular social networks include , , , , , and . Sites aimed at younger children, like Club Penguin and Moshi Monsters, also have a social networking element
- Many sites include an instant message function which allows private conversations between site members
- You can set privacy settings on most social networking sites so that only close friends can search for your child, tag them in a photograph or share what they’ve posted
- Most social networking sites have an apps page. version available, meaning your child will have access to the social network from their smartphone or tablet. Some app versions of social networks use the location of the phone – see our
- Facebook has a setting that allows your child to approve or dismiss tags that people add to their posts
- Information shared between friends can be easily copied and may spread widely
- It isn’t easy to take back information that has been posted – and can be impossible if it’s already been shared – see our online reputation page
- Not everyone your child meets online will be who they say they are. Chatrooms and forums can connect people who are complete strangers and can be unmoderated
- Chatrooms and forums are one of the places online groomers go to connect with children. They can also be places where people use a lot of sexual language and engage in online flirting. This is sometimes done through video chat programs such as Skype
How can I ensure my child is safe on social networks?
Here are some tips:
- Educate yourself on what the various social networks and apps do – see the social networking section on our apps page for descriptions of the popular apps
- Agree with your child when they can join a social networking site and create their with them
- Help them set privacy settings at the strongest level. Sites can change privacy settings so make sure you stay up to date with them. Links to the privacy pages of all the major social networking sites are in our resources section below, plus you can set these on sites for young children such as Moshi Monsters and Club Penguin
- Report people and inappropriate conversations to the site administrator via the ‘help’ or ‘report’ tab (if available) and always keep a copy of the conversation as evidence
- Teach your child how to block or ignore people on social networking sites and online games, and support them in knowing what they can do if someone makes them feel uncomfortable e.g. create a sentence with your child that they can use if they want to exit an uncomfortable conversation online
- Set boundaries about which sites they can use and for how long. Try to do this when they first start using social networking sites, so they get used to it from a young age
- Teach your child never to share any personal details – this includes their password, real name, address and their school
- Use the site yourself – you or another trusted adult can become your child’s friend on Facebook or follower on Twitter
- Explain that friends should be people they know – people they meet online may not be who they say they are. Talk to them about the risks involved with chatting to people they don’t know and sharing personal information with them
- Stress that meeting up with people they know online can be dangerous and that they should only do so with your permission and if you are present. Report directly to CEOP if someone is trying to meet up with your child or if you think your child is in immediate danger
- Set rules about what they should and shouldn’t post
- Talk to your child about the fact that what they post can’t always be taken back, and even if it can, it may already have been shared. This applies to webcams too – teach them to only use webcams with people they know, and show them how to disable it.
Where to learn more about social networking:
See the social networking section of our Apps Guide for Parents for a more comprehensive list of social networking apps.
Radicalisation of young people through social media By Sajda Mughal
Can social media be a force for good when it comes to parenting? By John Carr OBE
Playing an active role in a child’s online social world by Dr Emma Bond
How social media and the internet is helping teens By Seun Oshinaike and Catarina Dias
- Ofcom Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report (Oct 2013), p.93
- Cybersafe Opinion Leader Repoart (Sept 2013)
- Ofcom Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report (Oct 2013), p.36