Protecting Your Children on Social Media: Snapchat, Tumblr, Instagram

January 20, 2014

Federal law prohibits minors under 13 from using a social network without a parent's permission. Some networks play it safe by not letting anyone under 13 have access—Facebook is one of those. Others, like Snapchat, have created an app specifically designed for kids under 13. Of course, we know that a lot of kids under 13 still have profiles on social networks. In fact, a 2011 study found that half of parents with a 12-year-old said their kids had profiles on Facebook--even though the terms of service prohibited those kids from having Facebook profiles. There are three main concerns for parents when/if their children are using the social networks. The first and second is safety--both online and in real life. Bullying can happen on these social networks and it's very easy for a child to disclose their physical location, especially on Instagram. The third is the child's online reputation--what comes up in a search result for that child's name. This is especially important when the child begins to apply for jobs and especially for college. The three most popular social networks for pre-teens and teenagers is Snapchat, Instagram and Tumblr. So let's focus on the good security features of each and the risks of each.

It self-distructs within a certain amount of time— as short as 10 seconds or at most 24 hours. This is good for protecting the "online reputation" of an individual, which is especially important as teens begin to think about applying for college. It's also a private network in which you can select who sees your messages. This means you can decide that only your friends and family members see what you're sending. If the child is under 13, you can sign up for SnapKidz—which allows them to use Snapchat's tools to create content but they can't share it with anyone at all. Instead the content is saved to their smartphone.

Someone could theoretically take a screenshot of something your child has posted and then share it with whomever they want. So again, remember that nothing is ever completely private.
Someone could have created a fake account and not be who they say they are. This is a risk with any kind of social network.

Instagram recently made available Instagram Direct in which a user can send one photo to a person or people directly. This keeps it from being captured on search engines and ultimately impacting a child's online reputation.

By its nature, Instagram is a public social network. Because it's owned by Facebook, it enters that ecosystem easily. It can also be posted onto Twitter easily—meaning anyone can see it anywhere in the world. This means that those photos could turn up in a search result for that child, thus impacting their online reputation in the long term. What's more, Instagram has a location element to it. This means that a child can tag what location they are at when taking the photo—including their own house. This makes it very easy to locate a child in real time. You can disable this feature on a smart phone and I recommend parents do so.

Tumblr is a social network that is comprised of blogs. So the child could post content to their blog and then share it with other people. Like Facebook, all children under 13 years old are banned from it. It is very easy to find illicit content on Tumblr, including pornography and graphic language. One of the only security features it provides is the ability to report/block a user account or tumblr blog for bullying. As such, children under 13 should definitely not be allowed on this site. Teenagers who use it should be monitored by their parents—ideally by giving the parent access to the teen's login. If your child wants to create a blog for creative expression, I would recommend using WordPress instead. It's highly respected, has much of the same functionality and you're able to easily monitor what your child posts/who visits his or her blog.

Overall Advice:
-Insist on passwords to all of your children's accounts, this way you can see it as they see it. Otherwise they might be hiding private messages from you.
-Install monitoring software on your children's computers, tablets and smart phones. Both the Apple app and Google Play app store have parental controls available.
- If your child receives a bullying, abusive or otherwise unwanted message, do not respond to it—responding may encourage further messages. Instead, you should block the user and/or change your privacy settings to prevent future contact from the individual. If you believe the sender's behavior is unlawful, contact your local law enforcement for assistance

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