Parenting Tip of the Week – Messenger Kids and Keeping Kids Safe on Social Media

By Prevent Child Abuse America

Have you heard of the app Messenger Kids? A Facebook product, Messenger Kids is meant to be a chat tool for pre-teens, and conversations around this app have shown that parents are uneasy about social media and unsure how to keep their kids safe. Given that children are being exposed to the internet at younger and younger ages, our Parenting Tip of the Week is about having productive conversations with your kids can keep them safe online, whether using Messenger Kids or any other app.

Did you know? The average age of a child getting their first smartphone in America is just around 10 years old according to a 2016 Digital Trends report. That same report showed that 50% of all kids have a social media presence by age 12. The most popular social media platforms, Facebook and Instagram, are used by 77% of children, followed by twitter (49%) and Snapchat (47%). With the release of Messenger Kids, it is possible those Facebook numbers get even higher!

What this means for parents is that conversations with their kids about internet safety, digital citizenship, and rules for use need to happen earlier than before. It also means parents need to be knowledgeable about what apps their kids are using and how parents can control what their children are exposed to.

Talking to Children about Apps like Messenger Kids and Internet Safety

While there are myriad parental control apps and software that parents can find, the most important thing parents can do to protect their children online is to have conversations with children about internet safety. It’s important to set ground rules that let children know what you expect of them when using social media accounts. Make sure your children know:

  • Never shares their real name or location with a stranger,
  • Not to accept friend or follower requests from people they don’t know,
  • Never share passwords with anyone, not even their BFF.

Parents should also know what social media accounts their children are using and ensure they have ways to check in on those accounts. Most social media sites have information on parental controls and safety, including Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Snapchat. These safety sites can give parents some good tips specific to each platform to help keep children safe online.

Beyond general tips, however, parents should have conversations with their children about why internet safety is important and what your expectations as a parent are. Just like the “how was your day at school” chat all parents are familiar with, parents can ask their children about their favorite websites or social media accounts, who they have fun talking to and how they have fun online. Questions like these help turn a potential lecture into a conversation and give parents an opportunity to ensure children know what kind of behavior is expected from them online.

Talking with children about digital citizenship is a good way to both teach children healthy habits for internet use and help prevent children from getting into situations that could be potentially harmful. Keep in mind that it is important to have this conversation more than once. Parents can use opportunities like news stories about cyberbullying to revive the conversation from time to time.

Apps like Messenger Kids have made it more obvious than ever that social media is not just something that parents of teens have to think about. By having conversations with their children early and often about internet safety and expectations, parents can cultivate an environment where children are ready to use social media in a safe and healthy way, no matter when their parents decide they are ready.

Thank you for joining with us in our effort to Prevent Child Abuse. To talk with a counselor or to make a report call Family Advocacy Program at 466-3264 or the 24/7 Victim Advocacy at 671-0377, Craven County DSS at 636-4948, Carteret County DSS at 728-3181 or the Military Police at 466-3615.