It’s a digital dilemma plaguing parents. Should you be following your kids on social media? We consulted with 24 experts and they all agree– yes, absolutely! The Pew Research Center surveyed parents about this and found the majority are already monitoring their kid’s online activity in some way. So how can parents keep their kids safe online and encourage good digital behavior without being too intrusive?
We asked 24 parents and experts for their best tips on how to keep a watchful eye in today’s digital parenting age.
1. Never use interrogation measures
Janeese Parker, Mahogany Mental Health Counseling
The parent-child relationship can be tricky to navigate, especially during adolescent years where there is a major shift from dependence on parents to the development of independence and personal identity. Through social media, teens are able to develop an online persona that is similar to who they are in reality or test the boundaries and experiment with who they would like to become. As parents start to feel the inevitable pull away from them, social media may be one of the best ways to learn what their children are up to, but it may come at a cost depending on their approach.
If parents engage with their child through social media, they should first understand that the content presented is not always indicative of lessons taught in their home nor is it confirmation that they are bad parents.
Do not use interrogation as a tactic to understand their rationale for the posted content. Be curious, not judgemental, and use open-ended questions around what drew them to the content and call out anything inappropriate with love; use their nicknames to find “Finstas” (fake accounts on Instagram) which usually have content that teens do not want their parents to see.
2. Communicate the dangers, highlight the positive, and have regular check-ins
Josh Ochs, Founder, SmartSocial.com
Parents should have an open conversation with their kids about the dangers of certain applications and what to look out for on social media. While it is good to be on every app that your kid is on (and to follow them on those apps) it’s also important to have the login information to each social media account your kid is using. This also ensures your student can’t restrict views/block you (and they will know you are checking in from time to time, helping them to realize your wisdom is also online).
Remind your kids to keep it Light, Bright, and Polite online when they post on social media. In our book, we cover how to plan together and talk to your kids about posting on social media. Colleges and future employers are looking at social media day in and day out when considering candidates. If your kid does make a mistake, we teach how to fix and improve your kid’s digital footprint so that one day they may shine online.
Ensure you are having regularly scheduled check-ins and conversations with your kids about social media posts and anything that they may have questions about. It’s a good idea to learn everything you can about the platforms they’re on so that you’re more knowledgeable on the topic and what takes place online.
3. Don’t be so invasive on their social media platforms
David De Haan, Fantastic Kayaks
Honest communication is always a good place to start. In a brief and simple way, let them know that using social media requires responsibility. What they post will be on the internet forever, even when they delete it. Teach them about privacy. Most of these social media apps ask for personal information when signing up. Let them know that it is wise not to give out too much information. After the conversation, ask if it’s okay for you to follow/befriend them on social media for safety purposes. Maximize your chances of getting a yes by promising not to be too invasive. (Make sure you keep this promise so you don’t get blocked).
The kids may not like this second tip, but it is for the best and it will give you peace of mind. Use a monitoring app. Children can be sneaky sometimes and you cannot afford to be ignorant. The My Mobile Watchdog app, for instance, lets you block any apps and websites that you think are not appropriate. OurPact offers a way for you to monitor every app on your kid’s phone. You can also try MamaBear which alerts you about your kid’s activity on social media apps so you are always in the loop.
4. Self-monitor and take one day off a week from social media
Cindy Muchnick, Author
- Parents can help monitor their teen’s tech usage by keeping the lines of communication open with their teens. We encourage you to dialogue with your family about what tech rules will be upheld in your household and to best determine how your devices won’t divide you. Reflect on your parenting practices as they relate to tech, and determine your own dependence on your devices.
- My teenage daughter recently learned about tech self-monitoring at her human skills class at school; now she can gauge her personal tech usage on various apps. She asked our family members to also self-monitor on a weekly basis. And do you know what? It was shocking to see how our time is divided into usage minutes on various social media and application platforms—and those minutes don’t even factor in the time we spend on our laptops! This exercise was a great wake up call for me, my spouse, and my other teens. Why not check your family usage from time to time?
- Finally, did you know that, on average, a teen spends 7.5 hours per day in front of a screen for entertainment purposes and that, over the course of a year, that time cumulatively adds up to 114 days? That’s nearly one-third of a year—straight through—plopped in front of a screen! (Centers for Disease Control. “Screen Time vs. Lean Time.” 2018) We need to find creative and thoughtful ways to curb that. How about taking off one day a week (or a set time each day) for a “disconnection diet?” Even these small committed steps can help your family and teen increase time spent off-screen.
5. Talk to them now about social media and add them as a friend
Brandon Walsh, CEO, Dadsagree.com
Sooner or later, your child will be on social media, so now is the time to start talking to them about social media. If you are the one who creates their first social media account for them, you’ll be their first friend. You can maintain a relationship with them online by sharing memes and tagging them in funny and interactive videos. These can be the most convenient ways to maintain an online relationship with your child. Furthermore, you can share with them educational videos to help mold their perspective about things. Compliment on pictures they share and comment on any posts they share. These acts are not privacy-intrusive but help you stay connected.
Qustodio is one of the easiest to use parental control applications. It is available for all commonly used operating systems like Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. However, it is not free and can cost you at least $40 per year. The app can be useful for filtering web content, blocking apps, time management, and location tracking.
6. Don’t judge them on their social media posts
Donna Tang, Budgeting Expert, CreditDonkey
I think one of the best ways parents can interact online with their children is by keeping an open zone with them and developing a comfort level with them. If you assure your children that you’re friendly and you don’t judge, they’ll be comfortable with adding you on their social media platforms. Take them into trust and ensure that you’ve been through their age and know how things are like at that time.
You can then share posts with them, comment, and engage on the content that they share. They can do the same as well. This way you’ll also be able to keep a check on your children. Moreover, if your child has a side account in which they haven’t added you, there are chances they might have added themselves there at least. You can also find that “secret” social media account of theirs this way through a little digging without letting them know or showing any signs of intrusion.
Children want to have privacy and avoid embarrassment. While you might want to comment on all their photos, they might not particularly want that, so it’s good to take a step back.
If they let you follow them, keep a minimalistic presence on their page. Like their photos (and maybe comment every now and then if you really can’t hold back). But don’t stay overly present. Keeping your distance is sometimes the best way to maintain a healthy relationship. You also need to trust your child. As much as you want to protect them, sometimes the best thing you can do is educate them on the dangers of the internet and then step back. You don’t want them to feel as if you don’t trust them – that’s when issues start to present themselves.
8. Don’t keep secrets from your kids
Vickie Pierre, BuyAutoInsurance.com
The worst thing a parent can do when seeking to monitor or interact with their children online is to keep it a secret. To attempt to secretly track their behavior will only drive a wedge between you and your child. It’s okay to be upfront. Let them know that you will be putting steps in place to ensure their safety.
Whether that’s installing parental controls or having access to social media passwords, they deserve to know that you’re watching and more importantly, that you care.
If you’re concerned that your child won’t respond to your involvement, try seeking the help of a trusted family friend or relative. Ask them to “friend” your child on social media, and occasionally ask them who they’re talking to.
Having a voice other than yours may prove effective in getting them to open up when it’s needed.
9. Parents need to find their own purpose on social media other than following their kids
Andrew Taylor, Director, Net Lawman
Parents need to have their own purpose on social media. It can be very tempting to comment on everything they see their children post, but if it is not relevant or particularly interesting to their direct relationship, then it is best to not comment.
Parents need to ‘hold their own’ meaning that they use social media clearly for other reasons than talking to their children. They speak with their own friends, comment, and share things on what they find interesting. This helps children feel freer from judgment from their parents, knowing that they aren’t being ‘watched’ all the time.
10. Befriend your child on social media and create family groups
Jessica Robinson, The Speaking Polymath
With the advent of internet technology, people of all ages including children have started using different kinds of apps. But, as the content available on different apps and social media platforms is varied, children get access to a lot of information. Along with this, cyberbullying has also become quite common. As a result, it is crucial for parents to be on the apps their children are using. This helps them understand the kind of content which is available on an app and also enables them to talk about security issues with their children. Here are some tips for parents to interact with their children online:
- Creating family groups:
These days most apps provide a feature to create chat groups. Parents can make use of this feature to create family groups and then interact with their children on these family chat groups. On these chat groups, they can also share cybersecurity awareness posts with them.
- Sharing children’s interests:
One of the simplest ways for parents to interact with their kids online is by sharing their interests. For example, if a child loves playing video games, parents can share information about new video games with them. They can choose those games which offer a multiplayer mode and invite their kids to play with them. This way, they can open communication gateways with their children and interact with them online.
- Making friends with children’s friends:
This is another important way for parents to connect with their children on online apps. It involves making friends with their childhood friends. It doesn’t mean that they have to interact with them regularly, but it simply means that parents should at least add them as friends. Then, they can wish them on their special days, comment on their posts, and develop cordial relationships with them. This will, in turn, help them connect with their kids in a better manner.
11. Let your kids know you’re there to protect, but don’t be overly invasive as that leads to Finstagrams and more
Mollie Newton, Founder, Pet Me Twice
It is okay for parents to monitor their kids online. This is to ensure that you are keeping them away from online predators, and what they are learning is useful, appropriate, fun, and improves their well-being.
What’s not okay is unreasonably manipulating them even if they haven’t done any wrong and you just want to protect them from future mistakes.
If we’re talking about apps to monitor our kid’s online activities, I recommend Qustodio as one app I have used for my two kids since it has the basic features parents could easily learn. It conveniently sets rules and limits a user’s internet navigation, plus, monitors screen time usage and location tracking which is also crucial.
However, there are a lot more effective tips guaranteed to protect your children without necessarily controlling them. Be open, talk to them about online safety and how the digital world can affect them in all aspects.
Let your kids have their own privacy especially if you know they are knowledgeable enough to handle it. Don’t be overly invasive about their activities because that’s when they might start keeping secrets.
12. Parents need to set an example of how to be healthy online
Ryan Cook, Digital Marketing Specialist, Epic Marketing
I think parents should definitely follow their kids on Instagram, Tik Tok, Snapchat, and other forms of social media.
Parents should give kids a good example of how to be an uplifting, healthy voice on social media, and when their kids post something, ideally parents and family members should be the first ones there cheering the post on and engaging with it. Most of us are quite self-conscious on social media, and having loved ones around us celebrate us and cheer us on is a huge benefit. In all senses, parents should take an interest in what their kids have an interest in, and seek to understand their kids’ world and be a part of it. This makes for happy, healthy families.
It’s also a good way for parents to monitor what their kids are feeling and struggling with so that they can be a better help and support.
13. Don’t intrude their space and normalize the conversation around social media posts
Amy Duncan, Founder, KindMommy.com
It’s okay to follow your kids on social media as long as you don’t give off the vibe that you are intruding on their social space. If you stalk or stop them from doing something on social media, they are either going to block you or do it to rebel. In either case, that will sort of defeat the whole purpose of following them on social media.
I think the key tip for monitoring kids online is to normalize the conversation around apps. Make them aware of the risks and also when discussing something that is not related to social media ask them to check it out on the app. Using Instagram to learn about how destinations really look is a positive way of using the app. While this is one of the most important steps, it’s also important to set rules about social media These rules do not have to be restricted only to screen time and social media usage but also show them how they can set privacy and content filters.
Ask them to think about how they feel when they are using the app, how they feel after they are done. Engaging them with activities that do not need a smartphone is another excellent way to form habits where you do not need to spend too much time on your smartphone.
14. Have an open conversation, asked to follow, and stay in the background
David De Haan, Owner, Stand Up Paddle Boards Review
The first and most important thing is to have a talk with the kids. Let them know that what they post will probably stay on the internet forever. Teach them to always be kind and not post any hurtful comments or jokes. With this in mind, they’ll think twice before posting.
About following them on social media, I think you should ask. If you follow without their permission, they may block you. If they agree to let you follow them, be cool. Don’t be all over the comment section or go tagging them in your posts, unless they want that.
Kids can be sneaky. And if you want to stay on top of things as far as social media use is concerned, you may want to use a social media monitoring app. Most of them, like MamaBear, let you know what the kids are posting. You will be alerted in case of inappropriate or harmful content.
15. Create an account together and share the activity of scrolling through social media feeds
Sarah Walters, Marketing Manager, The Whit Group
This is a great question that all parents have to wrestle with within our current society. Seemingly, there are no right or wrong answers, just the choice you make that you have to live with.
I believe that enforcing strict rules early on will help keep your children safe and under close watch. If your child is asking about getting their own accounts, then impose a rule of them giving you access to see their activity. Sign them up on a shared iPad or computer that is a joint account between the two of you.
Try not to make it seem as if you are patrolling their activity but like it’s something the two of you can do together. Try and watch videos they like and laugh with them at the content. Sit with them on the couch and have fun with them as they scroll through their favorite channels and accounts.
This will make it seem like a shared activity you have together that you both enjoy and will feel less like you are policing what they do (and don’t do). It will also help you stay on top of the latest technology and what each platform is all about.
Eventually, when they have their own devices and you aren’t monitoring them so strictly, it won’t feel so intrusive or strange when you pop in to see what they are doing on these social channels.
16. In a world where predators and cyber bullying happens, following your kids may be necessary
Sonya Schwartz, Founder, Her Norm
Gone are the days where your kids would wreck and knock all the things in your house while playing. They’re now mostly inside their rooms spending all their time on social media. As a mother, I am really concerned about my children’s welfare, like many parents. There are a lot of good people in this world, but there is also no shortage of evildoers.
In social media, you don’t even know if you’re talking to a real person behind a picture. I’m okay knowing that my children are talking with classmates and friends. What I’m not okay with is them talking with strangers. Here are two reasons why you should follow your children on social media:
- To prevent predators from interacting with your child: I wouldn’t let my children wander off unsupervised and social media is a big open space where not everyone is kind.
- To look out for potential bullying: Make sure that your children are not a subject of bullying or are not a bully themselves.
Ultimately, I believe it’s your children’s decision if they let you look into their social media accounts since they can always create another one if they want to hide something from you. So don’t force your way in, because it may just lead to a start of mutual distrust. Communicate with your children what you want and why you want it. Let them know that you’re only after their safety and there are a lot of bad people out there that might try to harm them if they’re not careful.
17. Use apps that help monitor your kid’s activities for you
Adi Donna, Founder, Cozy Down Home
I am not into checking my kid’s social media on and off. I try to build their trust in me by giving them the freedom to be on any social media and use it. On the other side, I have made my accounts on every social platform they are using but with the names that I don’t own. Doing so, the kids do not know who we are and only consider us their followers who are admiring their every activity. However, we are actually having an eye on their social activities.
You can also use some apps that will help you monitor your teen’s activity on the phone. Norton is an app that allows me to set time limits for using the phone and help me filter the web content coming in. TeenSafe enables me to track my kid’s calls, texts, GPS, and social media activities. DinnerTime helps me to limit the use of phone internet. Other than these apps, parents can also use PhoneSheriff, Qustodio, or MobSafetyBrowser.
18. Create a profile that isn’t embarrassing to be following or friends with your kid’s social media profiles
Vickie Pierre, Family and Wellness Writer, QuickQuote.com
Rather than using your own personal account to follow your child, you can opt to create a special, separate account from which you can monitor your child’s behavior. By doing so, your child’s friends and acquaintances don’t have to know it’s actually mom or dad following his or her account.
If you’re going to follow your child on social media, don’t be overbearing. Never initiate public arguments or disagreements on their posts; instead, address those issues in private. Don’t feel the need to comment on everything your child posts. Show restraint when interacting with your child’s friends. And while you should monitor your child’s account frequently (at least once a day), don’t feel the need to monitor his or her account every five minutes.
Perhaps the most important thing a parent following their child on social media should do is be open and honest. Never give the impression that you’re trying to be controlling, or trying to be sneaky. Talk to your child about the real dangers associated with social media, and make sure he or she understands the “why” behind your actions. And if at any time you become concerned about their behavior, be upfront and be willing to set boundaries.
19. Depending on age, lay down the law or respect privacy after educating
Andrew Taylor, Director, Net Lawman
For those who have younger children just exploring social media, parents should take the opportunity and lay down the law immediately – they should have full access. If it is approached in a no-nonsense kind of way where there is no judgment from the parents whatsoever on what their children produce.
For those a little older and looking for independence, respect for privacy needs to be balanced with education.
I believe it can be daunting for parents to stamp their authority on something that is somewhat out of their grasp. The key I believe is trying to walk a mile in their shoes.
20. Follow then until they are at least 18 years old
Pamela Turner, Co-Author, Daughters of Promise Devotional
I think parents should follow their kids on social media outlets until they are at least 18. I follow my two teens (18,15) on Instagram and Facebook. My oldest has me blocked on Twitter, which is okay because that’s her way of having a little social media privacy if you will. My two younger children do not have Snapchat and TikTok accounts of their own but I do allow them to enjoy my Snapchat filters whenever they feel the urge. My seven year old has an Instagram account, which was initially created by her older siblings. When they stopped posting, I took control of it so that I can check the DMs and for any other messages that should not be sent to a child.
21. You don’t need to be your child’s social media friend but you do need to follow them
Carly Campbell, Mommy on Purpose
Parents need to follow their kids on social media – and if, as a parent, you don’t understand why… then you need to educate yourself on the dangers of social media.
Have an honest conversation with your child about why you’re following them. Let them know it’s because you don’t trust other people – not because you don’t trust them. And if they seem hesitant, promise them that you will not engage with their posts. You don’t need to be your child’s social media friend – you need to be your child’s parent. You can assure them that you won’t be embarrassing them in any way publicly, ever (and then keep that promise). You will be able to see what they’re posting and have private (in-person) conversations about their posts, and the posts that they engage with.
If your child is a teen, and friending mom or dad embarrasses them to no end, you could consider going as far as creating a fake social account to follow them – and telling your child about it so they know who this person is.
If, after promising you won’t engage or embarrass your child, they are still against you following them or they block you, it’s not unreasonable to think that they are already posting things they know you wouldn’t be happy with.
22. In addition to following their kids on social media, parents need to be educated on how each platform works and how their children use it
Andrew Selepak, PhD, University of Florida
For all the positives of social media, there are a lot of negatives as well such as cyberbullying which impacts younger people much more than adults. The increase in cyberbullying among young people has also led to a rise in childhood depression, eating disorders, and even suicide. Parents need to follow their kids on social media to know what they are posting and who they are interacting with. But simply following your kids on social media is not enough.
Although following your child on social media means at a minimum that a parent has a social media account to follow their child on Instagram or Facebook, but it doesn’t mean the parent knows how to use the accounts. Parents need to know social media better than their children so they know how their child uses it and how others can contact them or engage with them. Simply following your child on Instagram doesn’t mean you know what they are doing. Instead, all a parent is doing is giving their child a reason to look for other ways to interact with friends in less visible ways, and these less visible ways are often where more cyberbullying is done.
Parents need to have digital literacy to know how the web works and how to protect their child. Parents need to not only follow their children on social media, and know how to use the platforms, they should also make sure they have the passwords to any accounts their children use so they can see the direct messages their children are sending and receiving. While public cyberbullying is a problem, so is private cyberbullying, and only by having their child’s password to their account can they be sure they are not cyberbullying someone or being cyberbullied. And even if a parent does have their child’s password, their child could still create additional accounts beyond the watchful eye of their parents. This is why it is important for parents to know how the platforms work and be on the lookout for additional hidden accounts and maybe even monitor their child’s online activity.
Additionally, parents may even want to invest in software to monitor their child’s online activities across platforms, the internet, and even their texts. While parents can’t protect their child from everything, there are things they can do to protect them as much as possible. The first step is to recognize that just as you would keep your child from watching R-movies, you also need to keep them away from disturbing content on the web.
23. Have meaningful discussions that set ground rules and expectations before following your kids on social media
Dr. Chester Goad, university administrator and former K12 principal and teacher
Parents should follow young adolescents on social media and use discretion following older students after having a meaningful discussion that sets ground rules and expectations. Younger children may benefit from occasional positive feedback and encouragement from a parent online, but in general outside of holidays and special circumstances, parents should avoid or limit posting on their kids’ social media.
No matter the age, pay attention to posts and keep a watchful eye out for worrisome contradictions to real life. Extreme differences between the emotions and expressions included in social media posts and the emotions and expressions witnessed at home are red flags. Look for photoshopped selfies and other evidence of unrealistic portrayals of life. Have a conversation about the differences in social media and the big picture of everyday life, discuss authenticity and body image, and of course seek assistance from professionals if you notice signs of depression.
24. Giving your kids some space on social media is important or else they will start to hide their activity or create secret profiles
Myasia Burns, M.A., Social Media & PR Manager at Red Ventures
Should parents follow their kids? Absolutely. Where parents need to draw the line, though, is micromanaging their children’s online presence. Joining conversations you are not tagged in, liking every photo they and their friends’ post, or bringing up their online activity in every conversation is a reminder that you are “always watching” and an intrusion on their online identity. Let them breathe.
- Recognize that who they are on Instagram may be different from Facebook – make sure that you know about every single social media profile they have (even second/fake Instagram accounts).
- Check in daily – this doesn’t mean only looking at their profile, but understanding what’s trending. Is there a dangerous new challenge sweeping the internet? Has it reached your child’s middle school yet? These are things you should know about. Out-of-the-box concept from a social media manager: consider using tools like Sprout Social or Hootsuite to keep yourself in the know.
- Flag things of genuine concern – is your child using language online that is harmful to themselves or others? Are they bullying someone? These are things to worry about and should be addressed directly with your child. If they’re simply just being a little more provocative than you’re used to (but ultimately not a danger to anyone), I’d recommend proceeding with caution, i.e., perhaps not mentioning it instantly. Again, you don’t want to hover too much over them. Why not? Your child can and will find ways to revoke your access to their digital persona, which is in direct conflict of what you want. Private (or worse, secret) profiles can be the source of the darkest content on the internet. Encourage a healthy relationship by allowing them their space to explore who they want to be and redirect them only when absolutely necessary.
The bottom line is to be present but not overbearing as a parent.
Parents should stay personally connected to their kids about their online activity; they shouldn’t only rely on monitoring software. Instead, they can create a digital safety net. When parents keep the lines of communication open, they are likely to have a more positive influence in helping to shape their child’s digital footprint– today and for years to come.