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Helping Young People Stay Safe On Social Media

Social media is always changing, and it can be hard for parents and caregivers to know who young people are connecting with online, or the sort of content that they are engaging with.

Social media is a fact of life, and an important gathering place for young people. It can provide supportive connection with friends, helpful resources and information, and surprising and uplifting content.

Unfortunately, just like in the ‘real’ world, social media can also be a source of unsettling interactions and content, including bullying, predation and graphic content, from pornography to violence to self-harm.

Responsible adults have an important role to play in helping teens to stay safe online, and in providing a safe space to come to if they are exposed to people or content that has disturbed them.

Jessica Corbett, a Youth Mental Health Worker with CMHA York & South Simcoe’s MOBYSS bus, shares the following tips to help kids stay safe online:

Know their most-used online places and language

It can feel hard to keep up with the rapidly changing world of social media, but knowing the popular apps that kids use, and understanding some of the lingo they use online can help you start conversations with the young people in your life, without the cringe factor.

smartphone screen of tiktok app held by a hand

Take a collaborative approach

Trying to ban social media use or certain apps is unlikely to work – teens will always tend to find a way to access their favourite social media, especially if it’s something their peers are using and talking about.

Instead, try having collaborative conversations about safe social media use. Set realistic boundaries that you can both agree to – for example, monitoring the length of time kids spend online, or making commitments about the people or content that they are accessing.

It’s important to know that some platforms allow you to create private profiles where you can choose who you interact with (e.g., Instagram), whereas others are entirely public and you can’t control who or what you see (e.g., TikTok).

smartphone screen opened to instagram page on a pink table next to plant

Normalize the good and the bad

Social media can seem like a lot of fun, so it can feel shocking or upsetting to be exposed to an unpleasant person or experience online. Having early and regular conversations normalizes the fact that social media can come with risks and upsetting content that can put our own mental and psychological wellbeing at risk. Knowing this can help teens to reduce the impact of negative situations.

young female girl smiling at her smartphone screen

Help teens recognize when things are unsafe

By talking about the kinds of media and interactions that can happen online, you are helping the young people in your life to recognize unsafe situations. These might be physically unsafe (e.g. a stranger asking to meet with them or have them share personal information or photos), or psychologically unsafe (exposure to unsettling, inappropriate or traumatic content).

Jess notes that these conversations can be uncomfortable for adults and teens alike, but that is because they are important. The more you practice having them, the easier they will become.

Want more information? Check out these tips on creating a more positive online experience.

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