It’s a question we get a lot from parents: “How can I keep my kids safe when they are constantly hopping between so many different apps?” We get it, there’s a lot to stay on top and all of it changes constantly. Unfortunately, that question doesn’t have a simple answer. But there are some baseline actions every parent can take to boost their child’s safety on popular apps like TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram.
The safety equation is threefold, with every piece as important to your child’s overall safety as the next.
- Connection and conversation. The first part of the safety equation is maintaining a strong relationship with your child so that dialogue (two-way; no lectures) on digital safety and wellbeing becomes commonplace and they know they can come to you if they have a problem. One way to keep those conversations rolling is to download your child’s favorite apps so that you understand first-hand how the communities work and the type of content that’s being shared.
- Install parental controls. The second part of the safety equation is to add parental controls. Do we have an agenda here? You betcha! For decades, we’ve put some of the world’s brightest engineering minds into designing digital tools that allow families to enjoy the best of the Internet without giving them the rest of the Internet that could put their emotional and physical wellbeing at risk. McAfee’s targeted software helps parents monitor and filter web searches and content, set time limits, and view daily activity reports.
- Access platform tools. The third way is to take a few minutes to ensure your kids are using the platform-level tools available on both their devices and within the apps. Both Apple and Android phones have basic safety and wellbeing features. Additionally, the apps your kids likely love—Tik Tok, Snapchat, and Instagram—have their own set of safety tools.
Screentime is Climbing
A report released in 2021 by Common Sense Media found that teenagers (ages 13-18) use an average of nine hours of entertainment media per day and that tweens (ages 8-12) use an average of six hours a day, not including time spent using media for school or homework. The report also found that boys spend more time on gaming devices while girls spend more time on social media and that mobile devices now account for 41% of all screen time among tweens and 46% among teens.
With those numbers increasing each year, it’s even more important to understand the different ways parents can help kids stay safe. Let’s break down a few safety basics on each app that are easy to access and use.
Tik Tok Safety
TikTok has some impressive safety guidelines broken down into topics parents could easily use as a springboard for some great family discussions. The guidelines and the Safety Center cover issues such as dangerous TikTok challenges and how to deal with other digital threats such as bullying, sexual content, fake news, and hateful behavior. You can increase safeguards using TikTok’s:
- Family Pairing. TikTok offers Family Pairing that allows parents to link their account with their child’s to co-control settings on privacy and content. This TikTok feature allows a parent to monitor and manage screen time, direct messages, set restrictions, and control friend and comment filters.
- Restricted Mode. There is a Restricted mode for accounts that can help filter basic mature content on TikTok.
- Privacy Settings. To ensure your child isn’t connecting with unknown people on TikTok, you can go into the settings and make their account private.
- Digital Wellbeing. We all know how easy it is to get sucked into spending hours on an app without even getting up to stretch or give our eyes or minds a break. Turning this function on will send alerts to users who have been on the app for more than two hours.
Every app functions differently and thus, offers different ways to boost security. Snapchat provides a helpful guide for parents and educators, including safety tips and conversation starters. You can increase safeguards using Snapchat’s:
- Privacy Settings. Sit down with your child to ensure their privacy settings are adjusted to choose who can send them Snaps, view their Stories, or see their location on Snap Map. They can also manage who views your child’s content with My Story.
- Friends Only Feature. Snapchat was made for keeping in touch with your close friends, so the app Safety Center recommends users “only friend or accepts friend requests from people that you know in real life.”
- Report Abuse Feature. Ensure your kids understand how to report abuse on Snapchat, including harassment, bullying, or other safety concerns. If someone makes them uncomfortable, they can block that Snapchatter and leave any group chat. Here’s more on reporting abuse or safety concerns.
- Think before you share. Snaps are designed to delete by default within 24 hours. However, remind your kids that people who send Snaps can still take a screenshot or take a picture of the Snap with another device. Therefore, on Snapchat especially, advise your kids to think before sharing.
Instagram offers parents and minor users a library of safety and mental health resources accessible via the app’s Community Tab at the bottom of its home page. You can increase safeguards using Instagram’s:
- Family Center. A parent or guardian can supervise a teen’s Instagram account, provide extra support, and help balance their time. Parents of teens can remove supervision anytime, and the tool is automatically removed when the teen turns 18.
- Privacy Controls. Your teen’s account can be set to private, which means their content will only be seen by approved followers. In addition, they can also block and report abusive accounts.
- Comment Controls. Avoid unwanted interactions by encouraging your child to use “Comment Controls.” In addition, reporting and blocking tools also allow them to manage who can comment on their posts.
- Direct Message Safeguards. Instagram restricts Direct Messages (DMs) between teens (under 18) and adults they don’t follow. When an adult tries to message a teen who doesn’t follow them, they receive a notification that DM’ing that teen isn’t an option. For adults and teens already connected (i.e., one account follows the other), Instagram sends safety notices encouraging teens to be cautious in conversations with adults who have exhibited potentially suspicious behavior. (Note: This feature does not protect kids from connecting with fraudulent catfish accounts created using false profile and age information).
One of the most powerful safety features is you—a child’s mom, dad, or guardian. Your face-to-face, heart-to-heart connection will speak loudest in your child’s life. If you haven’t lately, ask your child what’s going on in their digital life, who their friends are, what they’ve created to share, and what’s new, hilarious, or trending. You may get some resistance now and then but don’t let that discourage you from pressing in and doing all the things that help keep them as safe as possible online.