Friend requests from strangers: a guide for parents

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Are your kids getting repeat friend or chat requests from people they don’t know? Have their follower accounts on social media ballooned with people who are unfamiliar—or maybe even bots? 

These quick steps can help your kids feel more confident about figuring out who to be friends with online, and boost their confidence in saying “no thanks.”

Don’t accept the request.

If the social media or gaming platform in question requires users to accept friend, follow, or chat requests from others, encourage your kids to ignore it! The other person won’t know that they’ve seen it and ignored it—on their end, the request will show as pending. There’s no reason for your kids to feel like they need to respond to strangers online.

Not all apps are set up this way by default, though. Many games and apps allow you to have a fully public profile that anyone can friend or follow. When your kids start using a new app for the first time, go through the settings with them and customize it to be private. You may even be able to restrict friend requests from people your kids don’t know—or hide their profile entirely.

Verify any claims that the stranger makes.

Some social media apps allow users to add a note to a friend request, or permit people to send messages to others before they’re connected. If your kids receive any comments from someone trying to add them, they shouldn’t respond. Emphasize that it’s important to hold off on responding even if the other person says they’re connected to your child in some way—this is the time when your kids need to tell you (or another trusted adult) and figure out the next step together. 

Block and report strangers’ accounts.

If an unknown person is continually requesting to chat with or to follow your child online, it’s okay to block or even report them. 

Teens and older children may be able to make this call themselves—show them how to block and report someone in their favorite game or social app, but also let them know that doing so can cause that person’s account to be shut down. They’ll want to reserve blocking and reporting for accounts that are truly bothering them—it’s not something to do to prank a friend! 

If your kids are younger, let them know to come to you and you’ll help them block someone from contacting them again.

Social media and gaming apps on a phone

Remember: You don’t have to be friends with everyone.

If your kids are stressed about someone friending them online, or are feeling worried that they’ll come off as “mean”, remind them that they aren’t obligated to be friends with everyone. In fact, it can be helpful to go through their profile together from time to time and remove any connections who they don’t know, or whom they don’t enjoy interacting with online any more. (Heck, you might want to do that yourself—do you really like seeing all of your old classmates’ Facebook updates?)

It’s also important to remember that this goes both ways—nobody is required to be friends with us online, or allow us to follow them. Help your kids understand that everyone is allowed to be in control over how they play and socialize online. What works for them might be different than what someone else likes to do—the important thing is that everyone can create a safe and fun environment online.

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