How to make Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok safer for teenagers
With teens spending more than four hours each day on social media, it’s time to take a closer look at what content is available there and whether it’s appropriate for their eyes
Piper Sandler’s Taking Stock With Teens survey of 10,000 teenagers found they are still using Instagram more than any other social network, with around 83% of them using it at least monthly. But Snapchat is a close second and TikTok right behind.
All three have tools to make these social media channels safer for kids. Of course, each child’s maturity level is different and sometimes doesn’t match their age. Parents should decide how restrictive each child’s social accounts should be after frequent conversations with them about the pros and cons of issues like safety and privacy.
Brand new to Instagram, teens ages 13-17 can invite parents to supervise their accounts with Family Center. Instagram leaves it up to minors to decide whether they will allow parental supervision under Settings>Supervision>Next>Set up supervision. They can also remove supervision at any time, but Instagram will notify the parent. The app will automatically remove supervision when the child turns 18.
It allows moms and dads to see who their child follows and who follows them, set time limits and be notified if their child reports something.
As with most social media networks, kids can make their Instagram account private. This means only people who follow them will see their content. Accounts for those under age 16 are set to private by default, but for anyone else, go to Settings>Privacy>Private Account to change it. When an account is private, people will have to request to follow, which means parents can talk with their kids about whether they will only allow followers they actually know in real life. Instagram actually recommends teens keep their profiles private.
The app’s Community Guidelines don’t allow posts with nudity, hate speech, bullying, self injury or graphic violence. But if users see something that violates those rules, they should report it and know that all reports are anonymous.
Adults are not allowed to send direct messages to anyone under 18 unless they are following the adult on Instagram. Even if teens and adults are connected on the app, it will soon use safety notices to “encourage teens to be cautious” in private messaging. The app will also alert teens if an adult is messaging with them who “has been exhibiting potentially suspicious behavior”.
For explanations of all the ways teens can keep themselves protected and for some great conversation starters for parents, check out A Parent’s Guide to Instagram.
Right now any settings in Snapchat that a parent or their child may set to help them be safer can be changed at any time; there’s nothing to lock them in place. Snapchat’s CEO Evan Spiegel has said the company is developing a family center so that young people and their parents can use Snapchat together. He told the Wall Street Journal it will give parents “more visibility into who their friends are talking to on Snapchat, their privacy settings and things like that.”
Snapchat does recommend only friending or accepting friend requests from people who are friends in real life. Teens can set privacy settings so that only friends can contact them, see their stories or their location on Snap Map. Snapchat has put together A Parents & Guardians Guide to Snapchat with FAQ’s, conversation starters and details about features and resources.
TikTok allows parents to have some say over what their child sees on the app by linking their accounts. With Family Pairing, moms and dads can set time limits, have some control over direct messages and limit the appearance of content that may not be appropriate. Parents can restrict who can send messages to their child’s account or completely turn off direct messaging. The app doesn’t allow people to send images or video over a direct message and automatically disables Direct Messages for users under the age of 16.
To pair a parent account with a child’s, go to Settings>Family Pairing and follow the prompts from there.
TikTok also has a useful Guardian’s Guide with details on the tools and controls in the app and some tips teens would like their parents to know.
The parental controls offered by these three social networks fall short of what many moms and dads would like at their fingertips. But if parents allow their children to use these apps, they should be aware of the privacy and safety tools available and then use open communication to fill in the gaps.