Following Your Kids on Social Media (26 Parent Tips)
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Parents: should you be following your kids on social media? The Smart Social team consulted with 24 experts and they all agree-- yes! So how can parents keep their kids safe online and encourage good digital behavior without being too intrusive? Read our article to learn more.
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This is great info, thanks for giving me some ideas on how to start a dialogue with my teen!
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Josh's presentation about social media was unbelievably fantastic. Our students learned so much about what kids should and shouldn't be doing. The fact that it is such a thoughtful process made it all worthwhile.
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This webinar is a very helpful eye-opener on the apps that are popular with my students.
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It’s a digital dilemma plaguing parents. Should you be following your kids on social media? We consulted with 25 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?
In this page you will find tips for 1) how to talk to your kids about expectations on social media, 2) how to respectfully follow them without making them embarrassed in front of friends or pushing them to hide social media, and 3) when and how to react to red flags you see in their social media.
Tips to talk with students about following them
1. Talk as a family 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.
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).
Ensure you are having regularly scheduled check-ins and conversations with your kids about social media posts, online predators, 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. Learn about all the popular apps with the SmartSocial Parent Webinar or the SmartSocial Online Town Hall for Superintendents, Directors & Principals.
3. Let your kids know you’re there to protect, but don’t be overly invasive
Mollie Newton, Parent, 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.
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.
4. 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.
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 sites, 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.
5. 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 sites, 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.
6. Have an open conversation, ask 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 your 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 tag them in your posts, unless they want that.
7. Learn how apps work for yourself and get passwords
Andrew Selepak, PhD, Social Media Professor at University of Florida
For all the positives of social media, there are a lot of negatives including cyberbullying, which impact 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.
Although following their child on social media sites means that at a minimum a parent has a social media account to follow their child on Instagram or Facebook, it doesn’t mean the parent knows how to use the accounts.
Parents 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 either a bully or a victim. 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 children online.
8. Set ground rules and expectations before following your kids on social media
Dr. Chester Goad, Former K-12 principal/teacher, Author
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 sites 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.
Tips to respectfully follow your kids
9. 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 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 sites 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?
10. Create an account together and share the activity of scrolling through social media feeds
Sarah Walters, Marketing Manager, The Whit Group
Seemingly, there are no right or wrong answers, just the choice and follow-through 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.
11. Don’t stay overly present on their social media
Carla Diaz, Cofounder, Broadband Search
Preteens and teens want to have privacy and avoid embarrassment in front of their friends who also follow them. 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.
12. Find your own purpose on social media separate from your 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’ - use social media for social interactions other than talking to their children. They should speak with their own friends, comment, and share things they find interesting. This helps children feel freer from judgment from their parents, knowing that they aren’t being ‘watched’ all the time.
13. Be an online friend, but a parent & express trust to your kids
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 best friend – you need to be your child’s parent. You can assure them that as an online friend, you won’t embarrass 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 won't be happy with.
14. Create family groups for social media safety
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 sites 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:
- Create 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
- Share your kids' 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
15. Create a profile that doesn't embarrass your kids
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 sites, 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 and show restraint when interacting with your child’s friends. 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.
When and how to react to red flags you see
16. Check in daily and follow your gut when something seems “off”
Myasia Burns, M.A., Social Media & PR Manager at Red Ventures
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.
Flag things of genuine concern. Some flags might be:
- Is your child using language online that is harmful to themselves or others?
- Are they bullying someone or is someone threatening them?
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.
17. 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 with online friends 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
- 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 (Click here to learn about fake Instagram accounts aka Finstas in the Navigating Instagram Course for Parents, Students, & Educators)
18. 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 as an online friend. 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 they share. They can do the same with you 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 be following themselves. You can find their “secret” social media account this way through a little digging without letting them know or showing any signs of intrusion.
19. 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 should set privacy and content filters.
Ask them to think about how they feel when they are using the app and how they feel after they are finished. 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 device.
20. Reach out and talk to your kids
Mo Mulla, Parental Questions
Some signs to look out for are if your child is posting about:
- Being suicidal
- Excessive amounts of anxiety
- Struggling with eating disorders
- Mental health issues
If you see any of these topics in your student’s posts, parents must:
- Reach out to your child and see how they're doing
- Consider talking to their friends to see if they know anything to help you better understand what's happening
If you're worried about your child, don't hesitate to contact a professional for help. They can help provide professional support and resources you need to help your child through whatever they're going through. If you see any signs that your child might be struggling, you should reach out and talk to them.
It can be difficult for kids to open up about what's going on in their lives, but they need to know that their parents are there for them no matter what.
21. Look for warning signs
Chris Anderson, Parent, Teacher, and Author
In March of 2016, my son took his own life. He was 13 years old. It came as a shock to everyone who knew him. In the weeks that followed, we learned that he had been struggling with depression and anxiety for some time.
Looking back, there were signs on social media that we could have, and should have, picked up on. If we had been paying closer attention, we might have been able to get him the help he needed before it was too late.
As parents, it can be difficult to know what to look for when it comes to our kids and their social media posts. However, there are some general warning signs that we can be on the lookout for.
If our kids are posting about wanting to hurt themselves, or if they are making threats of violence towards others, these are obviously cause for concern. Additionally, if our kids seem to withdraw from their usual activities and social interactions, this could be a sign that they are struggling emotionally.
22. Look at photo captions and comments
Vanessa Fassbinder, Child Insider
One of the signs that parents should look for is what type of posts are shared by their kids and what kind of captions they write under their pictures. Sometimes kids have the habit of conveying their thoughts through posts shared on social media or the captions under their posts. The way they write or share tells a lot about their mood and thoughts they are experiencing.
For example, often children share depressive posts and write negative captions for their social media posts. This might indicate that they are suffering through depression. Therefore, while scrolling through kids’ social media accounts, parents should be careful with their analysis.
Parents should talk to their children first about what is bothering them. If the issue is serious, as a parent, you should encourage your child to seek professional help. Otherwise, the behavior can be detrimental to them in the long run.
Usually these cases call for quick actions because the child’s mental state is usually unstable. Before they initiate any unfavorable event, it is better to identify and seek proper help for the child.
23. Be vulnerable yourself
Rachel Fink, parent and co-founder of Parenting Pod
If your child alludes to having issues on their social media, whether it be mental health issues, self-harming, violence, or poor self-esteem, then it is very important to address it in a gentle way. It’s vital that you approach the conversation with an open mind, and with a willingness to listen. If your child feels judged or feels as though you will be disappointed or angry, they will instantly become defensive and closed off, and you will get nowhere.
And pro-tip from a mother with a lot of experience: making yourself vulnerable by revealing some of your own issues that might relate to your child’s is a great way of helping them open up.
For example, I myself have struggled with anxiety and postpartum depression. Speaking openly about this with my kids has in turn helped them open up to me about their own mental health problems, so that there is an honest conversation and I can provide support.
24. Look at not just what they are posting, but who they are interacting with
Brandon Walsh, Founder of Dads Agree
Parents have to be very vigilant when they are following their kids’ social media accounts, in order to look out for content that indicates they need help. It can be a post they might share with their friends or an image of themselves that might display self-harm. Interactions with significantly older people can also be a sign of distress for parents, which can signal their kids might need help.
Parents should also observe if their kids are emotionally upset or stressed after they use social media or if they are nervous whenever they receive a message or notification on their social media accounts. This would help parents to gauge if their kids need any help.
Sometimes kids can post content that alludes to violence, self harm, or mental health issues. In this case, parents need to stop their kids from any further use of social media for some time. They can also set parental locks on the social media accounts of their kids, to prevent them from accessing or posting any content that might be harmful or mentally challenging.
Parents should also talk to the kids, to let them know if their posts on social sites are appropriate or not.
25. 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.
26. Understand the consequences of social media threats
Clay Cranford, Orange County Sheriff Department
Another big issue is threats. I had a situation where a freshman high school student said something inappropriate in class, he was suspended and sent home (it was not the first time he had had this type of behavior), he found a teacher’s Instagram photo and put it on his page saying that this was the teacher who sent him home. He didn’t stop there. He then talked about how he wanted to harm her and this is considered a criminal threat by the state of California. He had no intention of hurting this teacher, he was angry, and in his mind, this was the only way that he could handle this situation. Consequently, I had to write a crime report and then this school expelled him for this behavior. These types of choices have a catastrophic impact on kids and parents need to be aware of how their children handle situations as well as talk to them about the consequences of using social media to express frustration.
The number one safety factor for kids is to have parents that talk to them. Parents need to supply love and support to their children or kids will look for it elsewhere. It’s a basic, essential need. One way that parents can do this is by having regular family dinners. The Pediatric Journal of the American Medical Association found that the more family dinners that a family has each week, the more impact that it has on decreasing mental health issues. A family dinner was qualified as the family coming together to eat without screens, make eye contact, and talk to one another. This is an opportunity for parents to impart wisdom and coping methods to their kids.
If your child is under 13 and they want social media, the answer should be no. Their brains are not fully developed until later in life, but that development does not start until age 13. Furthermore, social media apps ask for all users to be 13 and you do not want to teach your child that lying is okay.
These are a few of the rules that I require my kids to follow in order to use social media and I have these contracts available on my site:
- I will not give my name, address, telephone number, school name, or parent’s name to anyone I meet on the computer
Then I ask my kids follow-up questions. Why do you think this is a good idea? Have you ever heard of anyone doing this before?
- I must tell my mom or dad all my social network usernames and passwords. They have access to all of my files and can see anything on my device at any time.
This one also establishes the expectation of privacy, which is zero.
- I will promote something, a charity or cause, on my social network as a condition of having a social network
My son recently got an Instagram account and we had him pick something that he cared about. We recently noticed that the organization he followed was having a 5K nearby and my son not only ran the 5K so now we are posting pictures of him at the event on his Instagram, but he also got his friends to run with them. This is a great way to get your kids involved in positive things.
- If I make a mistake or see something inappropriate, I will tell my parents as soon as possible
Tell your kids that you expect that they will make mistakes. Tell your kids that if they make a mistake and they come to you first, right away, you will set aside the discipline and help them with the problem. However, if I find out later that you had an opportunity to tell me and you didn’t tell me then the consequences set in.
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.
With so many resources available and so many people wanting to help, suicide can be prevented. Check on your friends and family members often and let them know you’re there for them. Let’s work towards getting rid of the stigma of talking about mental health.
If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or call 911 immediately. If you’re uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can also text HOME to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.
Additional resources for parents
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