It's undeniable that social media has made our lives increasingly more public, it's universally used and is a part of almost everyone's daily life. As a parent, it can be difficult to keep track of as social media is constantly evolving and a new platform is popping up every day. And to many kids, social media is life itself.
Here's the pros and cons of the most popular social media platforms for kids, so you as a parent can make an educated decision on your child's social media usage.
One of the most popular platforms with kids, Instagram is an online photo-sharing, video-sharing and social networking service that enables its users to edit their picture and video files using digital filters, and share them on a variety of social networking site.
Instagram has decent privacy features, you can make your account public or private and it's easy to use. The aim amongst kids is to get the most number of followers and likes on posts. It also has a feature called "stories" that appear at the top of the feed. Users share photos and video to create a slideshow, that lasts for 24 hours only.
You can also send private messages that can include photos that don't show up in the feed.
Advice: I would recommend that kids have their accounts set to private, that they don't post their location and avoid using hashtags. Hashtags and location information can make photos even more visible beyond your followers if your account is public.
Facebook allows you to create profiles, upload photos and video and send messages. It was originally created so you could keep in touch with friends and family. The minimum age is 13, but there is no real way for Facebook to monitor this.
It does have relatively good privacy settings, but like any social media platform, they're not foolproof. You can choose how visible your profile is and who to share posts with.
One advantage of Facebook is that it's easy to check profile and post history by going to the "activity log". This shows posts that you've been tagged in, your posts, posts you've liked and commented on and posts by others.
Facebook also has a feature called Messenger, where you can text and video for free through the Facebook app.
Advice: Kids aren't using Facebook as much as they used to, which is unfortunate as out of all the platforms this is the easiest one to monitor.
Snapchat is a messaging app that lets users put a time limit between 1 – 10 seconds on the pictures and videos they send before they disappear. It has a bunch of funny filters.
The biggest misconception with Snapchat is that once the snap has been viewed that it disappears. Snaps DO NOT go away forever. Smartphones allow you to capture screens, and this is exactly what people do. You can see if someone has done this, but by then it's too late.
Kids might think that Snapchat is seemingly risk-free, which has previously encouraged users to share pictures that are inappropriate or that they wouldn't want the world to see.
Snapchat is prohibited to children under 13. And I use that term loosely as Snapchat doesn't ask for age on sign-up, leaving parents or others needing to report if a child under 13 is using it.
By default, anyone who knows your username or phone number can send you a message, but you can configure Snapchat to only accept messages from people on your friends list.
Advice: There is severe lack of accountability with Snapchat. I personally love Snapchat, but I'm an adult and I snap the same three people over and over. As a parent and if Snapchat is around when my daughter is older, this is one social media app that I probably won't be letting her use.
This is a really popular app with teenagers (and adults). It lets users send text messages, audio messages, videos, and photos to one or many people. This age minimum of 16 has been set by WhatsApp and I find this app quite pushy, after you sign up it automatically connects you to all the people in your contacts who are also using the app.
My concern with WhatsApp for teenagers is that is has a location feature that reveals the exact spot on a map where any given photograph or video was taken and there is no limitation or enforcement of sharing inappropriate content. Chats in WhatsApp are not deleted, they just become hidden and archived. It also shows people the last time your child used their WhatsApp account and whether your child is online right now.
Advice: Stranger danger… your child can be contacted by someone they don't know. Make sure your child changes their status: Select Settings - Account, and then Privacy. Under status, change it from Everyone (the default setting) to My Contacts. That way, only people they know will be able to see when they last used WhatsApp.
Make sure location tagging is turned off also. Go into any chat in WhatsApp, tap the plus/arrow icon to the left of the tap box, select "location", a pop up will appear asking to access your location setting. Turn this off.
Musical.ly is aimed at tweens and is a performance and video-sharing social network. "Musers" as Musical.ly users are known, lip-synch to famous songs but also include some original songwriting and singing. Musers, build up a following among friends or share posts publicly.
When a Muser uploads their video, it becomes a "Musical," and other users can leave their comments about it, "like" it, or subscribe to the person's account so they can see more of their content in the future. If an account is not set to "private," Musers can have their Musical's rated and climb their way to the top of in-app popularity charts.
Advice: Many of the music available contains inappropriate language and if you search the hashtags porn can be found. Once you create an account there is no option to delete it. Musical.ly is a difficult one for parents to supervise. If your kids are going to have this app, they have to have their account set to private.
Have your child use your app store account or an account linked to your email, so you'll be notified when an app is downloaded. Anything created or communicated can be cut, altered, pasted, and sent around. Once your kids post something online it's out of your control.