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Social Media Safety at the Online Playground

For children, the playground is a sanctuary.  It’s where they go to have fun, socialize, and escape the stresses of their daily lives.  For modern teens, that sanctuary is moving online.

While safety regulations for playgrounds have been drawn out, specified, and even legislated, there are few comparable guidelines for online safety.  Almost all social media sites will include “13 or older” in their guidelines to appease COPPA regulations, but few of those sites will lift a finger to enforce that rule.   

We’ve gone in depth in a number of other articles about how to play safe on the playground, but because PlaygroundEquipment.com is committed to safety of kids across the board, we’ve assembled this guide to navigate the risks of social media and utilize the benefits.

Facebook is the most popular social media platform, especially for kids between ages 12 and 17.  Of all the social networking sites out there, this is the one parents (think they) understand the best.  The central challenge associated with Facebook monitoring is preventing your kids from over-sharing.  With the ability to post everything from names and personal information, to photos and videos, many kids don’t fully comprehend the risks.  That’s why it’s important for you to have a presence on Facebook as well (If you don’t already).  The unfortunate truth is, most kids are a little too eager to share information with everyone but their parents.

If your child spends a lot of time on Facebook but their profile is slim on content, that’s usually an indicator that they’re using a decoy profile for parents and polite company.  Friends and schoolmates get their “real profile”, which is likely less PG than the persona you and grandma get to see. While this exhibits a certain degree of foresight on your child’s part (college admissions and employers are known to look up Facebook pages when assessing candidates), it also means that they’re putting information online persona that they don’t want you to see.  This is pretty common tactic, especially for teens.

Remember, the more you respect their space, the more comfortable they will be with you observe their online social lives.  As frustrating as it may seem, the more you try to crack down, the more creative they will get in evading your digital gaze.

Facebook isn’t all bad, though.  As many parents have already learned, it provides a great medium for storing photos, planning events, and keeping in touch with family and friends.  If you can establish clear expectations and boundaries, you may discover that Facebook is the best way to keep tabs on the goings-on in your child’s life.  You can even set up your smartphone to receive notifications whenever your child posts. Learn how here!

Twitter is an easy-to-use micro-blogging site that allows users to post photos, videos, and messages up to 140 characters.  This is an exciting platform for kids because they can send messages to not only their friends but various celebrities as well.  But everything that makes this platform fun is also what makes it dangerous.

The stream-of-consciousness style of communication lends itself to mistakes.  Even adults have been known to mis-tweet from time to time. Tweets cannot be edited once they’ve been sent, but they can be deleted.  Still, one golden rule of the internet persists: once it’s sent, it’s out there for good.  Although tweets can be deleted, they can be re-tweeted or screen-capped by any of your followers.  Kids must understand that anything they post can and will exist forever in some capacity.

Tweeting from a phone can also be dangerous because location tracking systems will post where you are along with what you say. This is a feature users must enable, but make sure your child understands the risks of announcing their physical location to the world. Kids, however, do not have to enable public tweeting. This is the default setting.  

If your teen wants to preserve his or her privacy, they must make their account protected.  This simply comes down to checking a box when they set up their account, and it will allow users to approve followers.  From there, only those followers will be able to see their tweets and even they won’t be able to share them with anyone else.  This is the best option for your kids.

If you find out your child has signed up for Twitter behind your back, you can contact Twitter by emailing privacy@twitter.com.  If your child is under 13 years old, they can delete the account upon your request.

SnapChat is an image messaging app that has become wildly popular with older kids and teens in the last five years. More than 20,000 photos are shared through the platform every second.  Unfortunately, this app is widely exploited for the two things parents should be most concerned about: sexting and cyberbullying.

SnapChat’s format of disappearing messages lends itself to the perception that the platform is somehow consequence-free.  Images are automatically deleted five seconds after they’re opened, so they’ll never come back to haunt you. Right?

This is one of the most pervasive misconceptions about SnapChat.  Just like twitter, there’s always the risk that someone could take a screenshot and keep an image.  Additionally, snaps are stored by the app in a back-up database that can be retrieved by the company.  This usually means hackers can find a way in as well.

One way or another, this false sense of invulnerability leads children and teens to feel more comfortable sending content that would otherwise be deemed inappropriate.  Make sure your kids understand that social networking etiquette still very much applies on SnapChat and just because the image seems to disappear doesn’t mean it’s gone.

Instagram is a photography-based social media platform with 400 million daily users.  According to a PEW research poll, one third of teenagers consider Instagram to be the most important social network, so it’s important for parents to understand and know how to regulate their child’s activity.

As a photo-based platform, Instagram’s main challenge is the regulation of visually explicit content.  While the site is fairly diligent in filtering out nudity and gratuitous sexuality, inappropriate images still seep through, especially via the comment section.

Instagram is also one of the worst offenders in worsening kid and adolescent FOMO.  Constant inundation with exciting images creates a false impression that everyone else is having more fun.  A recent study found that 4 out of 5 users reported feeling increased anxiety when browsing instagram.  In addition to the distorted perception of their peers “average lifestyle”, the platform also perpetuates negative and unattainable body images.  It’s no wonder why Instagram was labeled the most detrimental social media platform to youth mental health.

All of that being said, most of these challenges can be overcome through simple dialogue with your child about how to stay safe online.  Make sure they don’t spend too much time on the Instagram app or find the pitfalls of comparing themselves to others through the pictures they see online.  If handled and utilized in moderation, Instagram can be a great outlet for young artists as a means of self-expression.

Pinterest is popular with older kids and teens, specifically girls.  It’s a medium for sharing art and artistic endeavors, but it’s also become a venue for uncensored adult content.  Unlike Facebook, which has strict content guidelines, Pinterest does not remove explicit graphics unless the graphic has been actively flagged by another user.  Also, browser-based parental controls may not recognize Pins as content that needs to be flagged

Pinterest also allows users to post their own content, and any of these photos or images can be, in turn, shared to someone else’s board.  If you do not carefully set up your privacy setting, any stranger will be able to follow your pinterest board.  Make sure all of your child's’ boards are set to private and that they don’t accept any followers that they don’t personally know.  Find out how to customize your privacy and security preferences here.

Setting up a LinkedIn in the modern day can be compared to a retirement fund.  It’s never too early to start building. The site is now available to anyone 14 and older, meaning as soon as your child starts high school, they can start tracking academic achievements and laying the foundation for professional networking in their future.

While they’re at it, students with a LinkedIn account can utilize University Pages to communicate and network with colleges, as they begin to plan their futures.  The way kids grow up these days, this won’t feel as much like work as traditional forms of college searching and application. For them, this will just feel like Facebook, but with a more productive goal.

Just because your child is acting responsibly, doesn’t mean they don’t still need some degree of supervision. As with any social media, risks and dangers still exist, and LinkedIn definitely has its detractors.  While the University Pages are pretty well vetted, predators can still sneak through the crevices and engage your child under false pretenses.  Make sure they keep you updated about who they’re talking to and what they’re talking about.  This will help you play an active role in conversations about your child’s future and keep them safe at the same time.

The Original Social Medium

We’d be remiss if we didn’t take at least one opportunity to point out the benefits of the old school approach to social engagement.  Before there was Facebook, Twitter, or SnapChat, there was the playground.  Sure, there was rough play and social exclusion there too, but a little parental supervision went a lot further to keep it in check.

PlaygroundEquipment.com offers quality, commercial-grade playground equipment, along with amenities such as park benches and picnic tables.  It’s worth noting that modern playgrounds can be designed for all ages, including teenagers and young adults.  Check out our full catalog or contact one of our professionals today!