Social media safety for teens: 9 tips for online empowerment

Share this:
Jump to

Social media use amongst teens is pretty much universal. A 2022 study found that 95% of teens between 13 and 17 use social media and nearly a third of them report using it “almost constantly.” It’s a huge part of teen life and how they interact with peers and the world. 

One of the most defining parts of teen life is finding your voice and defining your generation’s culture and trends. Social media is an exciting way for teens to explore and define who they are, and connect with people and ideas that help shape that identity. It also gives them a way to continue interacting with their peers outside of school, like how past generations talked on the phone or hung out at the local soda shop. 

However, social media is also an extremely vulnerable space for teens. In addition to documented health and social harms, social media is especially confusing for adolescents whose brains and decision-making skills aren’t fully developed. Add in classic teen insecurity and it can be hard for a lot of teens to stay safe when using social media. 

Your teen can have safe, healthy social media use. By talking about safety and keeping moderation and wellness front of mind, you can help them have a positive, safe experience and stay true to their own identity. 

Kids and social media: is it safe?

To help your teen safely use social media, you must first be aware of the risks. 

Encourage open conversations about your teen’s online life and make sure they understand those risks and the consequences. Yes – teens and consequences don’t always mesh (see: undeveloped prefrontal cortex) but again, open conversations will help with social media safety and help foster trusting relationships. 

Mental health is a big concern for teen social media use these days. While social media isn’t inherently bad for mental health, many studies show that social media can be addictive and is linked to depression and anxiety in teens, especially when it’s unmonitored or overused.

Here are some risks you need to know and can discuss with your teen:

  • Cyberbullying: When social interaction continues beyond school, bullying can, too. Cyberbullying is as harmful as traditional bullying, leading to depression, loneliness, and isolation. Read more about the effects of cyberbullying
  • Adult Content: Your teen may run into adult content, or even have adult followers or “friends.” This can be confusing for developing brains and create a warped sense of acceptable behavior in the real world. 
  • Cyberstalking and Online Predators: Adult predators use social media as a way to seek out victims and gain their trust. Grooming can happen on social media and put kids in vulnerable positions. 
  • Child Identity Theft: Scammers use social media too. They build relationships online and use them to get personal information that results in stolen identity or fraud. 
  • Malware and Viruses: Links in direct messages can contain malware - if your child clicks on this link, the malware can put your bank account at risk if it’s connected to any of their apps. 
  • Poor Communication Skills: Humans use words, body language, tone, and more to communicate. When we communicate online, we lose pieces of the vital messaging that helps us interact and understand each other. Teens who spend a lot of time online risk losing some of the other vital skills for communication in the real world, which can set them up for failure and social anxiety. 
  • Emotional Distress and Unhealthy Social Media Use: When a “curated” online life doesn’t match up to reality, it leaves kids (and adults) feeling depressed and anxious. Social media is rife for comparisons, which is challenging for socially self-conscious teens to navigate. 

With all these risks laid out, it’s important to note that teens also see positives from social media use. 58% of teens reported that social media helped them feel more accepted, and 67% said they felt like they had support in tough times. 71% also said social media gave them a place to show off their creativity. 

Teen looking at phone

Social media and body image.

Social media has been a game-changer for things like body-positivity and plus-sized fashion. Young people can see creators online proudly celebrating diverse body types and challenging traditional beauty standards. These spaces can be incredibly comforting and inclusive for young people when they access those spaces in a supportive, healthy way. 

With that said, much of social media is still saturated with unrealistic beauty standards and unchecked photo editing. Facebook’s 2020 research claimed that 32% of girls felt worse about themselves after using social media, as did 14% of boys. 

Many kids get their first smartphones right as they’re hitting puberty, and can legally start using apps like Instagram and TikTok around the same time. This is a highly sensitive time for kids, who are grappling with changing bodies and confusing messages from their peers. 


Kids need to know that online content is not the same as reality. You can help by having open conversations about beauty standards online and offline and posting regular, untouched and unfiltered photos yourself. Encourage your kid to follow people cultivating an account based on something other than good looks or wealth. They can follow comics, activists, educators, writers, scientists – anyone with similar interests who can help them see that beauty isn’t everything. 

This process doesn’t just involve social media. Nurturing and modeling good self-esteem offline leads to better emotional guardrails online. 

Social media age restrictions.

Most social media platforms have age restrictions, which you can see below. Outside of that, it comes down to personal choice. 

Kids must be at least 13 to use the following platforms: 

  • Facebook (may be higher in some jurisdictions)
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Snapchat
  • TikTok (14 in South Korea)

LinkedIn requires all users to be at least 16

YouTube recommends users be at least 13, but does offer YouTube Kids for younger viewers. Learn more about parental controls for YouTube Kids and whether Snapchat is safe for kids

There’s no need to rush getting social media – it’s probably not going anywhere. Your kid might be concerned about missing out on social interactions or trends or all the fun that comes along with being a teen, but not all kids will be ready at the same time. 

Your family’s health and happiness come first. Getting into those crucial conversations about social media and giving your kid the mental and emotional tools to enjoy social media and minimize consequences has no age limit – and a lot of us are still learning those things ourselves. 

9 tips to help your kids stay safe on social media.

These tips can help your kids stay safe and can encourage open dialogue. Check them out and see what works for you. 

  1. Teach Your Kids Not to Share Personal Info: Make a list of things that are not okay to share online and go over it with your kid. Make it clear that they’re not to share it with strangers OR people they know, publicly or privately (like in a post or in DMs).The list should include home, school, or work addresses, social security numbers, online passwords, legal names, date of birth, and online passwords.
  1. Help Kids Understand Scams: Go over how scammers operate and make sure kids know not to click on links or open attachments from people they don’t know. This is a great opportunity to talk about both consequences and media literacy. Show your kid what suspicious messages, posts, and links look like, and talk about what can happen if their device or account gets hacked. 
  1. Set and Practice Screen Time Rules: Decide the screen time rules that work best for your family. This can include designated screen-free time at home, individual limits per person, or implementing a no-screens-in-the-bedroom rule. Keeping devices out of the bedroom also helps with sleep and makes monitoring your kid’s social media activity a little easier (and hopefully keeps them honest!).
  1. Empower Kids to Use Blocking and Reporting Tools: A lot of kids don’t know how to react when they experience cyberbullying and online harassment, and only 1 in 10 kids seek help from an adult in these situations. Talk about cyberbullying and make sure your kids know that being treated poorly is never okay, both on and offline, and that they have the right to block and/or report anyone using social media in a way that harms them. 
  1. Focus on Privacy: Turn off geo-tagging features where possible and talk about why using them is unsafe. Make sure all your teen’s accounts (and yours for that matter) are set to private. You have to do this in each individual app and the processes vary, so do it together and talk about why it matters. 
  1. Choose Strong Passwords: Hopefully, the apps’ password requirements are doing some of the work here, but again, the “why” helps a lot. It’s likely your kids are going to have lots of passwords in their life. So helping them pick passwords and understand password security is a solid move. 
  1. Support Good Social Media Usage: Encourage your kids to be responsible social media users. They should be conscientious about what they post and think about how they interact with others’ content. Remind them that cyberbullying is unacceptable and that a screen doesn’t negate the harm people feel when they’re targeted. You can also encourage them to defy beauty standards and recognize when they need a break.
  1. Educate Yourself: Whatever your own feelings on social media, staying up to date on social media platforms and trends makes you more informed. Check out each platform before signing off on it for your teen, and check in to see what the youth is up to lately. You can be on the lookout for dangerous trends and content and can foster a more open dialogue with your kid. They’ll probably find you embarrassing, but better embarrassing and informed than cool and ignorant. 
  1. Use Parental Controls: Each family is different, so using parental controls might be the best fit for you. Consider signing up for a family identity theft plan to take away some of the stress of monitoring your kid's social media activity, in the off chance they do click on that phishing link. 

Look, it’s hard to be a teenager these days. Teens have always been caught in a frustrating spot between childhood and adulthood. As a parent, it’s tough to find a balance between respecting their autonomy and their right to make their own decisions, while also being responsible for their safety and well-being. 

Like anything else in teen life, social media has nuance and complexity. Learning how to navigate it safely and make good choices helps set teenagers up for more successful, healthier social media use later on and lets them access all those beautiful, accepting spaces that have created new narratives and opened doors. 

Part of why parenting teens is so hard is because you’re teaching them how to be on their own someday, and the clock feels like it’s ticking faster than ever. Breathe. They’ve got this, and so do you.

Social comparisons are a typical part of teenage development, but the constant influx of edited photos, influencer-perfect looks, and curated aspirational content is a perfect storm for young people to feel like they’re not good enough. 

Related tags:
Got a question? Ask an expert here

You ask. We answer!

The online world is full of questions—and we’re here to help answer them. Submit a question here, and we’ll publish it (anonymously), with expert answers, tips, and insights. We'll also email you when your answer is available. While every family is different, your question could be a top concern for other parents. Understanding is a click away.

Ask away!
We've received your question, thank you.

We aim to answer you as quickly as possible, typically within five business days. We’ll also email you a copy of the answer in addition to a link where you can view.

Our responses to your questions are for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never disregard professional advice or delay in seeking it.

Something went wrong while submitting the form.

We’re here to help

Find the resources, community, and conversations you need to raise a safer, more connected generation