How to help children and young people manage friend requests online

Posted on 29 October 2021

With online celebrities and influencers having millions of friends and followers it can be hard for children and young people to see any problems with accepting a friend request. 

 

What are friend requests?

A friend or follower request comes from someone who wants to connect with another person online. Accepting the request makes it much easier to stay in touch with that person and message each other directly. On social media the new follower or friend is more likely to be able to see parts of a young person’s account that are not visible to the public, like the photos they have uploaded. On games they may be able to see when they are both online so they can play together.

Children and young people can reject the request. If they do so, the person will not be notified, but they may still send further requests. 

When do children get sent friend requests?

Young people generally receive friend requests from other people on games and on social media. In many cases it will be something they are expecting and come from someone they know and have met. They may also receive friend requests from people they do not know such as someone they play with in a game or who has seen a comment they made.

 When might a young person receive lots of friend requests?

Times of change or when doing something new are likely to mean more friend requests. If they start a new school or are playing a new game it is common for young people to want to strengthen these connections online.

Some young people also enter into agreements online where they swap a ‘follow for a follow’ with someone who has mutual interests or likes online.

Should I tell my child to never accept a friend request from someone they do not know?

Connecting with other players in games or on social media is something that young people really value and enjoy so it best to think about ways to manage this safely. For younger children you might decide that they must ask a parent or carer before accepting any friend requests. As they become more independent and have their own phones you can discuss what is and is not ok to discuss with someone they only know online.

What can go wrong?

If a young person accepts lots of friend requests their private account can actually become very public as they will be able to see much more of their account and information. In some cases, accepting a friend request can lead to upsetting incidents like online bullying and the sharing of scary or inappropriate images.

Not everyone can be trusted online and it is difficult to check if someone is really who they say they are or what their intentions are. If someone they only know online starts asking to meet up, for personal information (where they live, age, name) or for images of them then they should go straight to a trusted adult and report to CEOP as this could be an example of online grooming

Top tips

  1. Discuss friend requests. For younger children you could ask if they know what friend requests are and if they have received any. For older children you could discuss what happens if you accept the request and how to decide whether to accept the request. 
  2. Set out guidelines at home using the Childnet family agreement. The questions under the headings ‘Communicating online’ and ‘If things go wrong’ are a good place to start.
  3. Make sure children and young people know that they can change their mind about a friend request and can block and report people anonymously if necessary.
  4. Tell children and young people to go straight to a trusted adult if someone they only know online ever asked to meet up, share personal information or for images of themselves. Together you can report them to CEOP.

 

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