It’s estimated that 60% of the world’s population uses social media. Unfortunately, social networking platforms attract a lot of bad guys who target kids. According to the FBI, there are 500,000 online child predators active daily. Even more concerning, over 50% of victims are aged 12 to 15, with 89% being contacted by online predators through chat rooms and social media apps like WhatsApp and Snapchat.
Online predators are just one of the many dangers kids face while using social media. They’re also vulnerable to cyberbullying, phishing, scamming, and other threats. Parents and guardians need to be aware of these dangers, including how to take appropriate action should the worst happen.
We’ve put together the following ultimate guide to teach you everything you need to know regarding social media safety concerning kids, namely:
The most dangerous social media apps
Common social media hazards
Critical social media safety tips
Rules to reinforce with kids
Let’s get started.
Although Facebook and Twitter are popular with adults, teens aged 13-17 prefer other social networking sites. The following are the apps that teens frequent the most.
Snapchat is a popular social media platform among teenagers, with over 300 million active users as of 2022 — more than three-quarters being teens and young adults. The app is known for disappearing messages and filters that can change your appearance.
Most kids use Snapchat to share fun photos and videos with friends, but there are risks associated with it, too:
Cyberbullying is more common on Snapchat than on other social media platforms.
There have been cases of predators using the app to groom children.
The Snap Map feature lets others see your location, which can be unsafe.
Snapchat has leaked personal user information.
Kids use Snapchat to share fun photos and videos with friends, but it comes with many risks.
According to the latest statistics, 72% of teenagers worldwide use Instagram. That's a huge number considering the total number of Instagram users is over 1.1 billion. The app is visually-based and very popular with celebrities and businesses. Users can share photos, videos, and Snapchat Stories.
While Instagram is a great way to connect with friends and see what's going on in their lives, it can also pose risks to teens. The dangers associated with Instagram are similar to those of Snapchat:
There have been cases of cyberbullying and online predators using the app.
Inappropriate content is easy to find on Instagram.
Your personal information may be stolen if someone hacks into your account.
Many young girls compare themselves to the unrealistic "perfection" they see on Instagram and develop body image issues.
TikTok is a social media app that allows users to create and share short videos. It's very popular with teens, as it's a great way to express creativity and showcase talent. The app also has a lip-syncing feature commonly used for comedic purposes.
Although TikTok is used chiefly for amusement, there are several risks connected with it:
The app has no age verification system. This means anyone can create an account and view inappropriate pictures or videos regardless of age.
There have been many cases of cyberbullying and online predators using the app to target children.
The app collects lots of data from its users. This includes information like location, contacts, and browsing history. TikTok has been known to share this data with third-party companies without user consent.
The app has also been banned in some countries due to security concerns.
TikTok has no age verification system. This means anyone can create an account.
Twitter is a social networking site for communicating online via short messages called "tweets." It's a great way to stay up-to-date with news and current events from around the world. Twitter is also popular with celebrities as it's a quick and easy way to communicate with fans.
Some risks associated with the app include cyberbullying and predators. Like other social networking sites, you can easily find inappropriate content on Twitter. As there’s no moderation regarding tweets, anyone can post anything they want, including graphic images and videos.
The app has leaked personal user information and is known to be addictive, causing users to check for new updates constantly.
Facebook is the most popular social media platform globally, with almost three billion monthly active users. The site was originally created for college students but has since become open to anyone over 13. Although many teens consider Facebook for "old people,” the platform still attracts millions of teens worldwide.
Although Facebook is an excellent tool for reconnecting with friends, its privacy issues have always been problematic. Because Facebook is a public platform, anyone can see what you post, even if you’re not “Facebook Friends.” This makes it easy for predators to locate and target children.
In addition, Facebook has also leaked personal user information. In 2018, the Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed that Facebook allowed a third-party company to access the personal data of millions of users without their consent. This led to widespread concerns about the safety of personal information on social media sites.
Although many teens consider Facebook for "old people”, the platform still attracts millions of teens worldwide.
Omegle is a chat app that allows users to talk to strangers. It’s popular among kids because it's anonymous and easy to use. However, this anonymity can also be dangerous, allowing predators to contact children without their parents knowing.
Whisper is an app that allows users to post anonymous messages. It’s popular among kids as they can share their thoughts and feelings with anyone.
But at the same time, predators can contact children through the app. Cyberbullies can post mean and hurtful comments without being held accountable. In addition, Whisper has a GEO-tracking feature that predators can exploit.
Yik Yak is an app that allows users to post anonymous messages to other users within a 5-mile radius. The app was active from 2013 to 2017 before it closed due to harassment and cyberbullying reports.
Yik Yak was reactivated in the fall of 2021. It is still popular among college students because it allows them to gossip and chat anonymously, but harassment and cyberbullying are, once again, significant concerns.
Another issue, according to reports, is that the app makes it possible to find a user’s precise location and unique ID. That's not a good thing as users are supposed to remain anonymous.
Kik is a popular messaging app that allows users to send texts, photos, videos, and even sketches to their friends. It’s popular among kids because it is easy to use and does not require a phone number.
That said, predators can use it to contact children without their parent's knowledge. Furthermore, Kik doesn't use end-to-end encryption and logs IP addresses, which hackers can use to find a user's Internet Service Provider (ISP) and location.
Predators can use Kik to contact children without their parent's knowledge.
Holla is a chat app that allows users from across the world to connect and hang out via text, voice, and even video.
There have been a lot of reports of profanity and unwanted sexual advances targeting minors on Holla. That's why it was removed from the App Store – but it's still available on Google Play.
Certain apps, such as "Calculator#" on iOS and "Calculator - photo vault" on Android, allow users to hide files, including photos and videos. These sneaky apps are popular among kids as they can hide content from their parents.
Unfortunately, they are also used to hide inappropriate content without the use of encryption or having to lock it. In other words, the private photos and videos that teens hide can easily fall into the wrong hands.
To protect kids from social media, parents must first understand the dangers associated with social networking. Here are some of the most common risks:
Cyberbullying is the most common risk kids face on social media. It comes in many forms, such as name-calling, threats, and the starting and spreading of rumors.
Social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram are the perfect breeding ground for these activities. It’s simple to send messages directly to a victim or share them with thousands of readers. Worse, most kids continue to use social media even if they’re experiencing verbal harassment.
If your child is experiencing harassment on social media, it can affect their mental health. Signs of mental health deterioration include withdrawing from social activities, changes in mood or behavior, or avoiding certain people.
If you suspect that your child is experiencing bullying on social media, consider the following tips:
Tell them it’s not their fault. Bullies harass other people as a way to cope with their own problems.
Talk about your own experiences. They might feel less anxious and alone if you tell them about your experiences with bullying as a child or teen.
Tell them not to engage with their attacker. That will only worsen the situation.
Make educators aware. Discuss the issue with a teacher, nurse, or principal. Most schools have anti-bullying rules in place.
Save the evidence. Take screenshots of threatening texts or posts. You can use them to support a cyberbullying claim should an investigation be launched.
Take your child to therapy. Cyberbullying on social media can be traumatic, and a therapist may ease their emotional distress.
Block the bully’s account. Most social media platforms feature ways to block and report users.
Limit your child’s social media usage. Kids can’t resist the urge to check for new messages, even when experiencing harassment. During these times, they should use less technology, especially social media. Use parental controls if needed and set rules regarding how much time they can spend on social media.
Ask to be their friend on social platforms. Send them a friend request on every platform they use, even on Tiktok and Snapchat. Take a close look at how others treat them and vice versa. Take action if you notice signs of harassment.
Cyberbullying comes in many forms, such as name-calling, threats, and the starting and spreading of rumors.
Another danger that children face on social media is meeting online predators. These people pretend to be someone they're not to gain a child's trust. They may seem harmless initially, but their ultimate goal is to cause harm, whether physically, emotionally, or sexually.
Predators typically use social media to groom children through catfishing; they create fake accounts and pretend to be kids. Conversations may start in online games and end up in Instant Messaging apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.
Predators will try to gain a victim’s trust by using fake profile pictures, pretending to like the same things, showering them with compliments or gifts, and more.
Once they’ve gained a child’s trust, they will use manipulation to obtain sexually explicit images. If the child complies, the groomer will use sextortion techniques to get more pornographic photos or videos from the child. If the child attempts to cut ties, they often threaten to publish the explicit images or videos.
The FBI estimates that over 500,000 online predators are active daily. Many of them use social media platforms like TikTok and Snapchat, which are popular among kids. The most frightening part is that predators aren’t always strangers — they are often related to their victims.
It’s not uncommon for a child not to realize they are being groomed; sometimes, the groomer is considered a boyfriend or girlfriend. That’s why online predators are so dangerous.
Here's how to keep kids safe from online predators:
Teach kids not to share personal information online with anyone, including full names, addresses, nicknames, etc.
Monitor their social media activity. Know who they’re talking to and what they are saying.
Teach them never to meet with someone they met online in person.
Predators typically use social media to groom children through catfishing.
Children also risk viewing inappropriate pictures and videos online depicting violence, nudity, and other forms of adult content. Social networking sites have filters to prevent this, but sometimes content slips through the cracks.
To protect your children from viewing inappropriate content:
Monitor their social media activity using parental control tools. This includes knowing what they are looking at and who they are talking to.
Teach them to report inappropriate content and, most importantly, never to send inappropriate pictures.
Phishing scams are another danger that children face. These occur when someone pretends to be a legitimate person or entity to gain their victim’s personal information. Criminals pull this off via emails or messages that look like they’re from legitimate entities or companies but are not.
Say someone sends a tweet or a Facebook post that advertises a special offer or gift. These messages can come from anyone, including friends and family with hacked accounts or stolen identities.
Once a child clicks on a malicious link, they are redirected to a website mimicking something like a cheat code website that requests (and steals) their credentials. Other times, a link will download malware onto their device if a strong antivirus product is not in place.
Another scenario is when a criminal gets in touch with a child via a fake website or Twitter handle, pretending to work for a trusted entity such as a school. Once trust is established, the cybercriminal will send them a link to a fake login page designed to steal usernames and passwords.
To keep your children safe from phishing scams, tell them:
Not to open emails or messages from people they don't know.
Not to click on links in emails or messages from people they don't know.
Report any suspicious personal messages.
Phishing occurs when someone pretends to be a legitimate person or entity to gain their victim’s personal information.
Sexting on social media refers to sending sexually explicit messages or images to other users. People “sext” to flirt, seem “cool," gain attention, or joke around.
It can be consensual at first, but the person who receives the sexual text or photo may share it publicly as a form of revenge or cyberbullying. Alternatively, a cyberbully may threaten to post sexually explicit images on social media if the victim doesn't send more — a phenomenon called sextortion. Either way, it is something that we need to protect children from.
Parents can protect their children from sexting by teaching them never to send or accept sexually explicit messages or images. In addition, you should report any instances of sexting and sextortion to related social media networks and authorities.
Sextortion occurs when a cyberbully threatens to post sexually explicit images of someone if the victim doesn’t send more.
Giveaways and contests are another social media danger that children face. These occur when someone shares links to contests that look too good to be true. These links may potentially lead to fake login pages designed to steal personal information.
Social media contests may also be a gateway to spreading malware, such as spyware, trojans, adware, or ransomware, onto computers. This is often done by tweeting or sharing Facebook messages that look like they’re from actual companies but are not. Clicking on one of these links immediately downloads malware onto a child’s device if a strong antivirus solution isn’t in place.
To protect your child from giveaways and contests, teach them never to participate in social media contests that look suspicious and, most importantly, never to give out their personal information online. Even posts that look like they are from friends or family can be dangerous. You never know if someone’s account is compromised.
Social media scraping is when someone collects data from social media platforms. Cybercriminals usually do this without the user's knowledge or consent.
To protect your child from social media scraping, teach them to share as little personal information online as possible, including profiles, posts, and even comments.
Identity theft is a prevalent danger that teens face. This phenomenon occurs when someone steals your personal information to take over your identity. Criminals do this by stealing Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, or credit card details.
To protect your child from identity theft, restrict their privacy settings on social networking sites. Teach them never to give out their personal information online, click on suspicious links, or accept friend requests from strangers.
Most social networking sites are a trigger for mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. They also lead to problems such as Internet and social media addiction.
To keep your child safe from mental health and addiction problems, teach them to use social media moderately.
In addition, monitor their social media activity and look for any warning signs. If you notice any red flags, such as changes in mood or withdrawal from outdoor activities, try talking to your child about them or consider seeking help from a psychologist.
Social media may cause mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
Children can be extremely vulnerable online, especially while using social media apps. Here are some critical tips for keeping them safe:
Learn about the latest social media trends and technologies. This will help you understand how social media works, including what your child does on it.
Join the social media sites or apps your kids are using. Doing so will help you monitor their activity and see what they're posting.
Talk to your kids about social media safety. They need to understand the dangers and how to avoid them.
Set limits on your child's social media use. This will help them balance their use of social media with other activities.
Monitor your kids’ social media activity. As a parent, you need to see their actions and identify any red flags.
Report suspicious activity to the relevant platform and law enforcement. Don't take any chances — report problems as soon as possible.
Use parental control software. This will help you block inappropriate content and monitor your child's activity.
Don’t share personal information. This includes your child's name, address, school details, and pictures.
Avoid giveaways. Many social media contests are scams. Your child may end up giving their personal information to the wrong person.
Use antivirus software. Software solutions like Bitdefender and McAfee will help protect your computer from viruses and malware.
Update your privacy settings. Adjusting privacy settings regularly will help you manage who can see your child's information.
Use a VPN. A virtual private network helps you encrypt your child's Internet traffic and disable location services.
Never share your location. Your child mustn't use location services. This goes for you, too.
Use a strong password. Using a strong password is one of the best ways to protect your child on social media. A strong password is difficult to break as they contain various characters, including letters, numbers, and symbols. You should never use your child's name, birthday, or Social Security number as a password.
Use two-factor authentication. This security feature is important because it adds an extra layer of security to your child's account. To log in, you'll need two forms of identification, such as a password and a fingerprint. This makes hacking difficult.
Report or block users. If your child receives friend requests from people they don't know, it should be reported to the social media platform immediately. They can also block users who are spamming them or sending inappropriate messages.
Keep apps updated. Social media platforms are constantly changing and updating their security features. It's essential to keep your child's apps updated to benefit from the latest security features.
Check your account for data breaches. Social networking sites experience data breaches. This means that your child's information could be at risk. Teach them to check their accounts regularly for data breaches.
Talk to your child about the dangers of social media, including psychological hazards. It’s no secret that social media has a negative impact on mental health.
Your plan to protect your children from the dangers of social media should also include teaching them the following rules.
Don’t create accounts if you are not old enough — usually 13+. If your child is under 13, they should not have a social media account.
Keep the family computer in a common area of your home. Doing so will help you monitor your child's activity.
Never give out personal information. This includes names, addresses, school-related information, and pictures.
Never accept friend requests. Children should never accept friend requests from people they don't know.
Don't meet people from social media in person. This can be extremely dangerous as the person they meet could be a sexual predator.
Use social media apps and the Internet for a set number of hours daily. Your child should have other hobbies in addition to social media. A healthy balance between online and real-life activities is always encouraged.
Ask for their account credentials. If you’re dealing with an older teen, don’t ask for passwords; instead, ask them to add you as a friend so that you can monitor their activities.
Taking everything into consideration, here’s how to protect children on social networks, step by step:
Check their devices for dangerous social media apps like Omegle, Whisper, or Yik Yak.
Learn how to protect kids from cyberbullying, online predators, and inappropriate content.
Understand the dangers of phishing, sexting, and identity theft as they relate to social media.
Monitor and control their social media activity using parental control tools.
Use a VPN and fine-tune the privacy settings.
Keep the apps and operating system installed on your child’s device up-to-date.
Set rules with your kids, including:
Follow the age requirements for all social media platforms (typically 13+).
Never share personal information on social media.
Use strong passwords for all social media accounts.
Never leave personal information on a public computer.
Never meet a stranger you meet on social media in person.
Install antivirus software like Bitdefender and Norton on their devices, which can prevent malicious links and malware from being opened.
Octav Fedor (Cybersecurity Editor)
Octav is a cybersecurity researcher and writer at AntivirusGuide. When he’s not publishing his honest opinions about security software online, he likes to learn about programming, watch astronomy documentaries, and participate in general knowledge competitions.