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Tips for helping your child build their first social media account

By Hilary Bird on 07 Jun, 2018

While many believe that kids shouldn’t be on social media at all, it’s possible for children to be involved in a safe and responsible manner. But it’s up to parents to show them how.

Officials agree. A recent report from the Children’s Commissioner recommends teaching kids responsible social media use rather than attempting to prevent it altogether. If you’re not sure how to go about that, don’t worry. Here are some tips for helping your child set up a safe social media account.

Ensure apps and operating systems are up to date

We’re all familiar with the constant updates to social media apps and device operating systems. These updates aren’t just annoyances, though. They often contain critical security updates that can prevent common malware, viruses and hacks from taking hold of devices.

In the event your child will be using social apps on their own devices, encourage them to keep everything updated. Most apps and devices can be set to install security updates automatically, and that’s probably the best bet if possible. If children are accessing social networks on a shared device, it may become your responsibility to stay on top of this.

If you’re not sure how, here is a comprehensive list of major operating systems and how to update them. Once you feel confident in the update process, you can also educate older children on how to update apps and devices themselves.

Teach your child how to spot phishing and other suspicious behaviour

One of the big dangers of social media for anyone, but especially younger children, is phishing. Phishing occurs when someone poses as an institution or another person in an attempt to get personal information like passwords or credit card numbers.

Phishing is a major concern on the internet, and while most of us know better than to just provide sensitive info without verifying, young children may not. Talk to your kids about phishing and the importance of not giving personal information to anyone online, regardless of who they claim to be. And instruct them to tell you immediately if someone messages them asking strange or personal questions.

Set privacy to maximum

Once you’ve given some instructions about getting online safely, you can help your children start setting up their accounts. And the first thing to adjust are the privacy settings.

On Facebook and Instagram, there are different settings that control who can see a profile and its contents. These can be set to anything from public to private. In general, and especially for kids, social profiles should be set to the most private setting available on the platform. This helps prevent bullies and others with less-than-good intentions from finding your child online.

Don’t just log in and set everything to maximum on their behalf. Sit with your child and explain what each setting does and what the potential implications are. This will help set them up for better privacy practices and online safety in the future.

Turn off location tagging in photos and social media profiles

Some social media platforms are set to share location information by default when posting, and most of them have the option, even if it’s turned off by default. It’s never a good idea to broadcast your location over social media, and this is especially true for children.

Additionally, many camera apps, like the iPhone’s default camera, have the option to embed location information into the photo itself. When that photo is shared online, the location info often goes with it, and it’s entirely possible to extract that data from the post. So while it can be nice to see photos automatically categorised by location, it’s safer to keep geotagging turned off.

Explain that once something is on the internet, it’s hard to take it back

It is extremely hard to guarantee that anything has been removed completely once it’s been posted online. Crude humour, photos in compromising situations (like at a party) and similar posts may come back to haunt them when job hunting later in life, as well. Teach your child to think before posting.

These tips should help you get started, but remember, it’s important to keep the conversation open and ongoing. Social media is here to stay, so it’s up to parents to show kids how to use it responsibly.

Hilary Bird is a digital journalist who writes about the things that fascinate her the most: relationships, technology, and how they impact each other. As more and more people become more and more reliant on their tech devices, Hilary wants to help them stay safe and understand how these devices will reshape the way we communicate.