Setting up social media
Advice for Parents & Carers
Get tips on how to use safety features and privacy settings on the most social media apps that young people use to keep them safe.
The term social media tends to make us immediately think about Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but children and young people use a variety of different platforms to connect and share online.
There are a number of different types of services:
Messaging services that allow you to connect individually or with a group via text, calls or video – the most popular amongst children are Snapchat, Facetime, Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger.
Social media that allows you to generate your own content, share with others, interact and communicate – the most popular amongst children are Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, Twitch and Discord.
Gaming platforms that allow users to game and communicate online – most popular are PlayStation Network and Xbox Live but children and young people can also communicate within certain games, without the need for a console or a subscription, with Fortnite and Roblox being the most commonly played amongst children.
What is the minimum age on social apps?
The minimum age requirement for these platforms does vary, however, most are 13. The notable exceptions are WhatsApp which is 16, Fortnite which is 12 and Roblox which is 7. For children that have learning difficulties, it’s important to recognise that their chronological age may not be aligned with their emotional understanding and cognitive ability. However, with the right setup, there is no reason why children with vulnerabilities cannot enjoy the many benefits connecting online has to offer.
Although the minimum age requirement for many social media apps is 13, there are some parents and children that knowingly set up accounts for their children even though they are yet to be 13 years old. Think very carefully if you do this, and if you choose to lie about your child’s age make sure it is as close as possible to their true age. This is because they are added rules about what advertising they may see, e.g. gambling adverts that are not shown to account holders under the age of 18. If the social media company is notified your child is under 13 they will delete the account.
The safest way to set up accounts and profiles
On many platforms your child’s profile can be viewed by anyone around the world, so think carefully about the information you choose to include.
Does their profile picture need to be of them, particularly if you child is young – could it be a cartoon, an image, or a graphic instead, so it is not immediately obvious that the profile is for a child.
Think about sharing information that makes it easy for someone to contacts or track and find your child. Whist being in class XX at A.N.Other school is an intrinsic part of their identity, this kind of information makes it easier for strangers to make contact with our child. Likewise making your contact details, like phone number and email public opens your child to being contacted by people they don’t know. Your child may have a tendency to be more open and trusting so help them think about why sharing personal information can be risky behaviour.
Some apps allow you to choose which pieces of information in your profile you share and with whom. This can be particularly helpful, not least to trigger a conversation with your child to help them understand which pieces of information it is appropriate to share with strangers and which bits with friends and family. You can find a helpful guide to setting up safe social media profiles.
The privacy settings to use when connecting and sharing online
Privacy settings are particularly helpful to manage your child’s online experience. They are different for each app, however, they tend to follow similar principles. For children with learning difficulties, these settings are important as they offer a practical level of protection from some of the risks that they are more likely to experience. Typically privacy settings allow you do manage the following:
- Who can see your child’s profile and what information they see
- Who can see what your child posts and shares
- Manage who can comment and react to your child’s posts
- How and when your child can be tagged or tag others
- Sharing your child’s physical location
Work through the privacy settings together with your child so that you can explain why you want them to be set that way. You may also want to regularly review the settings and amend them as your child gains more confidence and demonstrates they are able to think critically about what they see online.
Guides for the most popular privacy settings can be found here.