As a parent of a GenZ child, you might be familiar with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, but the number and complexity of social media platforms are growing at a strikingly rapid pace.
From a young age, we are taught to not talk to strangers, but what happens when that stranger has “mutual contacts” with you or, better yet, is “verified” on social media?
Keeping up with your children’s social world can feel more and more complicated and stressful. In order to better equip yourselves to engage in genuine conversations with your youth about social media, it is essential to have a better understanding of each platform and the safety risks involved. This is especially true in a time when we have migrated to a virtual world in order to maintain our social connections.
For this reason, we have created a brief guide in an effort to highlight several common platforms and some of the warning signs to look out for as caregivers.
Please note, we have accumulated this information from our own online research and various links can be found below.
With Snapchat, users can exchange pictures and videos, named “snaps,” that disappear after they are viewed by the recipient. There are various filters that can be selected for your snaps. You can also send direct messages through the app. The sender can see when a snap has been opened and to send a snap, you must have the recipient as a friend on your list. Your child can add peers by syncing their phone’s contact list to the app. You can send a global snap to your list by creating a “story” that lasts for 24 hours. You can form Snapchat groups with your contacts.
- Instant connection to peers
- Control over who sees your snaps
- Not time-consuming
- Snapchats can be screenshotted and messages/photos/videos can be saved through the app. Users might screenshot and re-send snaps that are meant to be personal or private.
- Users can add your child without being in their contact list.
- Filters can promote unrealistic expectations. For example, the “Naomi” filter removes all blemishes, adds makeup…etc.
- Due to the nature of the disappearance of snaps, some users might go so far as to send hurtful snaps.
- Users might send a snap and be ignored by peers.
- Users can be removed or excluded from groups.
In groups, various users might team up against one person.
Instagram is a a photo and video sharing social media site that is designed for users to take photos on their mobile devices, then upload the images “instantly”. It has evolved to integrate short videos, stories, and direct messaging and can facilitate connections between users and friends, family, colleagues, and other users with similar interests. It offers a variety of filters for both photos and videos that allow users to edit and enhance their posts for maximum appeal. Accounts can be made private or public. Every user has a list of “followers” which consists of other members who have access to viewing their content. They also have a list of those they are “following”. To follow accounts that are private, users must send a request. Many celebrities have accounts that are verified with a blue checkmark and there are also many fan-based accounts. It is a form of advertisement for many businesses and companies. Social media influencers on Instagram have a mass following and tend to have a specific genre or theme, such as comedy or fashion.
- A creative outlet
- Building connections
- Keeping up to date with the latest news and current events
- Feeling more connected to role models that are famous
- Positive accounts (i.e. healthy living, body positivity, good news captures….etc.)
- Self-esteem is heavily connected to how much “like” traction a user gets
- A strong focus on aesthetic appearance
- Young people are spending a lot of time editing their photos and are being reinforced by celebrities or influencers that post edited photos (think magazines circa 2000)
- Followers can freely leave comments that could be rude or offensive
- Being encouraged to post something that is out of one’s comfort zone by peers
- Struggling to understand the social nuances
- Being blocked or removed from someone’s ‘following’ list or having others not follow you back can breed exclusion and loneliness
- Still having access to direct messages from users that are not following you
- “Finstas” are fake Instagram accounts that might be used to relieve social pressures or to hide scandalous and/or overtly sexual behaviour
- Sponsored ads might draw young people into consumer goods
Discord is similar to Skype, but it is aimed at joining communities of people together by combining video and voice chat. It features an invite-only server to talk and hang out with friends and is commonly used to talk to friends while playing games like Minecraft or Fortnite. It provides gamers an online place where they can congregate and find other players. It is becoming more commonly used to connect with individuals with common interests and hosts public services that focus on a variety of topics outside of gaming, like anime and cryptocurrency.
- Bringing friends together
- Improving the virtual gaming experience
- Finding common interests with peers
- More interactive with video, chatting and texting flexibility
- No official verification of age
- There is no option to restrict the entry of users to another forum, which could lead to exposure to inappropriate content, including sexual content, through videos, pictures, chats, and video chats.
- Some groups are not gaming-related and may have negative impacts on your children.
TikTok is used to create videos, usually by lip-synching or dancing along with top songs and these videos can be shared with friends or with a wider audience of TikTok users. Creators on the app can be followed and people can become virally famous on TikTok. There are many minor TikTok celebrities have 100,000-plus followers, and the biggest stars break 10 million or more. Although many videos follow certain trends (with a hashtag), videos of any kind can be shared.
- Creative outlet (i.e. learning dances/songs, creating unique content, marketing…etc.)
- Fun activity to do with friends and family
- Educational videos (i.e. viral healthy recipe videos, useful everyday tips…etc.)
- Exposure to inappropriate content
- TikTok accounts are automatically set to “public” and need to be manually changed to be private
- Bullying on TikTok can take the form of someone creating a duet with or reacting to your child’s video (the videos appear side by side) in a negative or hurtful way.
- People can post hurtful statements in the comments
How to Address Social Media Use with Youth:
Setting limits around social media use can be extremely difficult during the times we are living in; however, caregivers are encouraged to consider ways to initiate conversations that outline their expectations firmly. It is important for everyone to know the internet limit in order to stay within it.
- Educate Yourself:
All the information noted above has been compiled with the support of simple Google searches. It might feel overwhelming, but you can find the information you need to support yourselves in navigating the social media world. Parents need to know about the various platforms and what the desired outcomes are for their young person in utilizing the apps. Many apps have expanded beyond their initial scope.
Reach out to your peers and learn about the ways that they are helping to navigate this within their family systems.
There is not a hard-and-fast rule, but parents should consider whether increasing supervision and monitoring would be useful given their child’s age/stage of development. Consider the social maturity and capacity of your children.
- Build Awareness:
Go through risks and benefits with your children. These conversations might feel uncomfortable, but they are essential. Discuss the natural consequences of unsafe internet use.
- Review privacy settings on your children’s apps:
There are parental control features on most social media apps.These features can help to restrict unknown users from viewing your child’s content and to filter content that is inappropriate. They are not always automatically installed. Be mindful of location servers being accessible on apps while being used.
Many of the apps have useful guides for parents. For example, check out this link:
- Set time limits on screen time:
Common resistance from youth might sound like…
- “But all of my friends are on it?”
- “That is a violation of my privacy”
- “This is social suicide”
- “They have over 1,000 followers, they are harmless.”
Ways to Validate:
- “We understand how frustrating this must be for you”
- “We trust you, we have a hard time trusting the internet”
- “We want to work together to better understand the function of this app so that we can offer you more autonomy”
Ways to change the culture at home:
Parents are just as heavily reliant on screens. Be wary of modelling online dependence to your kids.
- Be willing to learn and begin by showing interest in understanding
- Take a non-blaming approach when suspicious of activity
- Create opportunities to be offline together
- Put your phones away at mealtimes or common gatherings
- Reinforce or positively praise your kids when they are engaging in other forms of activity
- Encourage semi-structured activities (i.e. dance, swimming, art, sports…etc.)
Engage in family activities:
- Family board game night or completing a puzzle together
- Reading in the common area
- Baking together
Create “no phone zones” at home
A guide for parents about Snapchat:
A guide for parents about Instagram:
Instagram’s guide for parents of teens:
A guide for parents about Discord:
An article for parents about secret messaging apps:
An article for parents about TikTok:
An article for parents about the Family Pairing feature on TikTok: