Social networking sites such as Instagram and Facebook are popular with young people, even those who are of primary age. These types of sites allow young people to be incredibly creative online, keep in touch with their friends as well as sharing photos and videos.
Try to become familiar with social networking sites. Ask your child about them, create an account yourself and find out what it is about. Some sites have information and advice for parents. By understanding these sites you can help to support your children in choosing an appropriate site and using it in a safe and constructive way. Learn about the safety tools available on many of these social networks and ensure your child knows what to do if things go wrong.
Many sites have a minimum user age of 13, although some interactive sites are designed specifically for younger children.
Young people need to protect their online reputation
Young people use social networking sites for many different purposes; to communicate with their friends, to share content and to find out new information. You need to remind your child that they need to be careful about what they’re posting online. Children can sometimes believe that social networking sites are a private space for them and it can be difficult for them to realise that what they’re posting online may be publicly visible and can be spread very quickly to a large audience.
The blur between public and private expression can potentially put a child at risk in two main ways:
Content which is uploaded online can be copied, altered and reposted by anyone and it is very difficult to ‘take back’ what may be later regretted. Children who create or post inappropriate, offensive or even illegal content on their own or others’ web pages could get them into trouble with their school, friends and even the police, depending on the nature of the material.
Young people need to be aware of how much personal information they upload onto these sites. If a user of a social networking site doesn’t protect their information by enabling the correct privacy settings they might be are sharing their information with strangers, some of whom may have malicious intentions. Posting or chatting about personal details might enable someone to identify and contact your child online or in person. Those who share their information publicly can be exposed to more strangers online and can sometimes receive online hate and cyberbullying from people they don’t know
Q: My child is underage, but has created a social networking profile. What should I do?
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Before young people start using social networking services it is important that they are equipped with the skills to stay safe online and to use social networking sites responsibly. Sit down together and make sure that you both know how to use the privacy tools that are provided. There are many ways in which a social networking profile can remain private that will prevent your child from giving out personal information to strangers. Support your child in ensuring that they only add contacts to these sites that they also know and trust offline. One way to keep an eye on how your child uses a social networking site is to connect with them.
The SMART rules can help remind young people to be safe online. It can be helpful to go through these tips with your children.
Q: Can my child limit who accesses their profile?
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A: It is possible to set profiles to private or friends only, which restricts access only to those who have been granted permission to see it. This is different to a public profile which can be seen by anyone. Depending on the social networking site, the privacy settings do differ so it is important to check their settings. Children should register with their real age so that protections for their age group are in place.
Q: Does my child’s profile appear in a public search engine (eg Google)?
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A: There are ways that you can prevent your profile from appearing in search engine results; most social networking sites allow you to remove your profile from public search results by using the privacy settings.
Q: How can I report inappropriate behaviour and what happens when I make a report?
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A: Social networking sites should have clear, prominent and accessible places to make a report. Providers should respond promptly to reports from users, and some will acknowledge each report with a confirmation that it has been received and provide indication of the timescale in which the complaint will be managed. Make sure you talk with your child about these tools and ensure that they know how to use them.
Find out more about how to make a report.