Today's teens are growing up in a world where, to them, there has always been an Internet. And despite all of the amazing ways young people can use social media to explore their identity and interests, express themselves and find out what's going on across the world, they can also face negative experiences, such as bullying and harassment.
This is why it's important to keep open lines of communication with your teen. Whether they're new to social media or not, it's important to talk to them about these issues early and often.
Whether you're starting the conversation for the first time or continuing talks on key topics, here are a few tips to help you talk to your teen about safety, well-being and mental health on social media:
Tip no. 1: Take the time to learn how your teens use social media
Maybe you're getting ready for your teen's first step into the online world or maybe your teen's been online for some time and has their favourite apps, platforms and online activities selected. Take the time to talk to your teen and learn about what they enjoy seeing on social media, and what may spark negative feelings such as depression or anxiety. You can play an important role in guiding them as they navigate the online world.
Tip no. 2: Find a social media parenting style that works for you and your family
You know better than anyone what works for your family. That means that you're the best person to set rules for devices and apps, help them discover new interests and find balance between online and offline activities.
Each family is unique. Your parenting style could mean that you and your teen have a verbal agreement, a written agreement signed by both parent and teen, or even involve supervision tools. Have a conversation with your teen and, together, find the best way to help them engage with the online world in a positive way.
Tip no. 3: Explore privacy settings together
Devices and apps offer many different privacy tools and settings. It's always good practice to learn more about these settings and discuss them with your teen. The more control and understanding you and they have over their settings, the better the experience will be, overall.
Help your teen select a strong and unique password. Discuss with them the pros and cons of a public vs a private profile. Learn about setting time limits and finding balance with their time, overall.
Tip no. 4: Discuss when to report content and when to unfollow or block users
If and when your teen encounters content or behaviour online that doesn't belong there, make sure that they know how to use the tools at their disposal, that can help keep their online experiences safe and positive.
On Instagram, teens can control their experience by blocking or unfollowing accounts. Instagram also has built-in reporting features that will send reports to global teams to review, working as quickly as possible to remove content that violates the app's community guidelines and terms of service.
Teens can also use Instagram's Restrict feature, designed to empower people to quietly protect their account while still keeping an eye on a bully. Once Restrict has been enabled, comments on their posts from a person they've restricted will only be visible to that person. Your teen won't see notifications that a person they've restricted has commented on.
Learn more about how to report content on Instagram here.
Tip no. 5: Set up supervision on Instagram
After you've talked with your teens about their online habits, put a plan together to help them navigate Instagram.
Depending on what you both agree on, work with them to set up parental supervision tools on Instagram. These will allow you to see their follower and following lists, set daily time limits and see how much time they spend on the app. You can also see when your teen shares that they've reported content, such as a post or another account, on Instagram.
Tip no. 6: Privacy Checkups for your Facebook account
Privacy Checkups is Meta's hub for reviewing you and your family's privacy preferences on Facebook. You can adjust the tool to meet your specific needs, limiting who can see what you post, what apps have access to information, who can send friend requests and more. It's always a good idea to keep tabs on privacy settings, just like it's important to use a strong password and two-factor authentication.
It's also important to ensure that your teen's social accounts are secure, using tools such as Facebook's Security Checkup. This is in addition to keeping up with good security practices, such as not reusing passwords and using two-factor authentication.
Tip no. 7: Enable parental controls on devices and apps
If you need more help managing your teen's device, see the parental controls available on both Android and iOS devices. You may find options to block app downloads, restrict content or set device time limits. Check your child's device settings and make sure that they're set in a way that makes sense for you and your teen.
You can also explore the settings of your teen's apps to better understand your parental control options. For example, Instagram has supervision tools that allow parents to view their teen's follower and following lists, as well as set time limits.
Learn more about Instagram's supervision tools here.
Tip no. 8: Build trust with openness
The best way to monitor your teen's online activity is to do so with respect and clarity. Some young people may feel more vulnerable than others and might need more watchful parenting.
If you do monitor your teen, it's helpful to be up front with them about it. That way, everyone is on the same page and no one feels like their trust was violated.
Tip no. 9: Set and enforce boundaries
If you set boundaries on your teen's use of screen time and social media, make sure that you monitor and enforce those boundaries with them. Setting boundaries allows teens to think about what is okay and not okay.
This is a helpful exercise to help them think about how to best manage their relationships online with their friends and their parents or guardians.
Tip no. 10: Set a good example
Teens look to parents as models for navigating relationships in all aspects of life. That goes for how we use technology, too.
Your teen will look to you to set a good example in using devices and social media, as well as following the guidelines you put in place for them. If you set time limits on when your teen can use social media or be online, follow the same rules. If they can't message after 22:00, consider modelling that behaviour and doing the same.