Safe sharing online: 6 dos and don'ts for parents and kids

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Whether you're just thinking about letting your kids use social media, or your family has been online for years, these reminders can help everyone in your household be a good internet citizen.

1. DO think before typing.

Just like your parents might have told you to "think before you speak,” “think before you type” is extra-applicable to children and teens today. 

Be frank about why with teens and older kids. Let them know that what they put online (or at least screenshots of it) can potentially live on forever. To illustrate this point, you could even pull up an example of something embarrassing that you put on LiveJournal or Xanga in the early 2000s—because oh yes, those sites are still online today


It can also be helpful to talk to your kids about how important body language is in communication. When we're typing online, our meaning isn't always as clear as it would be when we're speaking face-to-face and able to see each others' facial expressions and hand gestures. A joke that's funny when standing next to a friend could feel hurtful in a text message. 

2. DO give credit where it's due.

Your kids might not think twice before sharing a friend's Instagram post to their stories or creating TikToks with trending sounds. But it's important to share others' content in a way that gives credit to the original creator. Your kids know not to plagiarize content for their school reports; the same goes for social media sharing, too–that’s bad netiquette (aka online etiquette). 

Instagram, TikTok, and other social media apps all have ways to share content within the app while attributing the original creator. 

3. DO report inappropriate content.

Everyone's threshold for discomfort—and guidelines for what's inappropriate—will be different. It's helpful to let your kids know that if they see something that they think isn't okay, they can come to you to review it. Together, you can decide if it's truly harmful. 

And if it is harmful to someone else or a group of people, you can use the various reporting tools available through social media apps. 

If you'd like to have extra peace of mind about what your kids will encounter online, using a parental control app with content filtering settings can help. You'll be able to restrict certain types of content, websites, and even keep an eye out for cyberbullying in gaming chats.

Young boy on desktop computer

4. DON'T respond to unsolicited messages.

Your kids know not to talk to strangers on the street; the same goes for social media. Talk to your kids about how strangers online might message them out of the blue ... or even pretend to be someone they are familiar with.

If they seem to get a message from a real-life friend or family member, but something feels off, it's best to err on the side of caution, not respond, and go to a trusted adult for help—even if the sender says they're in trouble. 

Some families like to come up with a code word that they'll only ever use if they're reaching out online for help. This way, if someone calls or messages your child and pretends to be you, your child can ask for the code word that only you both know.

5. DON'T share personal information.

While your kids may know not to give out their full name, birthday, or address on social media, there are other types of identifying information that they may post without realizing it. 

Location tagging is a big one—many social media networks encourage users to share information about where a photo or video was taken. But doing so can provide others with information about where users are, and even whether anyone's at home.

Some social media users have even turned snippets of online information into a game. The process typically involves taking a video still or single image and pinpointing the exact location of the footage on Google Maps. 

While the game is meant to be fun and harmless, it's a great example of how easy it can be to reveal more information than you realize online.

6. DON'T share pictures of other people without permission.

Lastly, it's a good idea to discuss how everyone—and every family—has a different set of rules for what is and is not okay online. While your kids might be comfortable (and allowed to) share selfies online, their friends might not be. It's important to check with friends before posting their photos online, and respect everyone's unique comfort level. 

And this goes both ways, too. Let your kids know that it's always okay to speak up and request that a photo stay off of the internet, or ask a friend to take down a video. After all, social media should be a fun online environment—not scary or stressful. And practicing good online behavior can help to make that a reality.

When discussing this with younger kids, you may want to focus on feelings—and bring up the grandma test. This means that you shouldn't put anything online that you wouldn't want your grandma to see.

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