Back to school: Keeping your kids safe on social media

Several social media sites are popular with tweens and teens, but experts say parents need to monitor their children's online behavior.

Credit: Alexis Stevens

Credit: Alexis Stevens

Several social media sites are popular with tweens and teens, but experts say parents need to monitor their children's online behavior.

The world of social media has not only changed the way we communicate with each other, but it’s also added new vocabulary to our everyday language.

We friend people, like posts, share pictures and tweet our thoughts.  And our children want to do it, too. The only problem is that social media sites were designed for adults, but are being used by a much younger crowd, including tweens and teens.

Here are 7 tips to keep your children safe on social media:

1. Say "no" as long as you can. Many experts agree that middle-school aged children are simply too young to understand the potential dangers. The legal age for some platforms is 13. But for some parents, allowing kids to have a way to share photos or communicate with friends seems harmless.

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2. Decide together which social media sites your child can use. Parents should be familiar with the sites and cell phone applications and should create their own profiles or log-ins. Make sure you have access to whatever your child posts.

3. Discuss what children are posting online. Explain to teenagers that their posts become part of their online footprint and are never truly private. Teach your child that if it's not something they would tell someone in person, it's not appropriate in an online post or text. Never post anything you wouldn't share with everyone, and don't use social media for gossiping or bullying.

4. Don't talk to strangers. You've been teaching your children this most of their lives, so be sure to remind them about interacting online with people they don't know. A feature added recently to Snapchat -- Snap Map -- shows users' locations, and some police agencies have warned this could be used by stalkers.

5. Check their phones. Once a week, require kids to hand over their phones to mom or dad. Be sure to check online search history and deleted items, including email and texts. Discuss anything that concerns you. Consider having them delete the online "friends" they don't know or that you don't know.

6. Set time limits for screen time. Make sure to watch for warning signs that your child is spending too much time on the computer or cellphone. If your child is struggling with school work, skipping extracurricular activities, or not getting enough sleep, determine whether excessive screen time is the issue, experts advise.

7. Encourage kids to trust their instincts. If your child ever feels threatened or uncomfortable by someone or something on social media, he or she should alert a parent. And depending on the concern, it may be necessary to contact police. For example, any threat to injure someone or hurt classmates should be taken seriously. Many social media sites also have an option to report suspicious or abusive behavior.

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics, Federal Trade Commission,, Psychology Today