Four Tips for Keeping Your Teen Safe on Social Media


To help you keep your kids safe from harm online, we recently shared five expert tips for managing your kids’ social media use. But the threat of harm doesn’t just come from online strangers and predators. In fact, it most often comes from your child’s closest friends. Dr. Marion K. Underwood, who was been conducting research studies in teen texting and social media use for 13 years, and who spoke about the results of that research at our recent Hinckley lecture, partnered with CNN and Anderson Cooper to uncover the Secret World of Teens. What they found may surprise you.


Do You Know What’s Happening Online?

In one survey, 94% of parents underestimated the amount of fighting their children were involved in on social media. And 60% underestimated how lonely, worried, and depressed their kids were. So what might be the reasons that parents seem to be so unaware of what’s going on in their teens’ online lives? The answer isn’t simply apathy. Most parents say that they do indeed attempt to monitor their children’s social media activity. The answers are more complex:

    1. The subtleties of exclusion and social combat are difficult to spot, especially for parents who are not particularly literate in regards to social media.
    2. Kids don’t talk about the kind of conflict they’re experiencing online because they feel parents can’t help.

The most effective way to reduce these kinds of conflict, according to our expert, is to communicate openly, and to be an active participant (with your own account) on social media.

Online Aggression

Malevolent behavior is undoubtedly experienced by teens in the real world. And the online world is no different. 47% percent of teens from the #Being13 survey said that they felt purposely excluded by their friends online. And 36% admitted to purposely excluding others. Teens notice, but do their parents? Several forms of online aggression may be taking place in your child’s social network that you may not even recognize.


Besides negative comments directly aimed at others (something you’re likely to spot if it’s aimed at your own child), there are other forms of aggression that can be detrimental to adolescents’ self-confidence. One prevalent means of online adolescent aggression manifests itself in the repugnant form of exclusion. Kids exclude others by:

  • Not tagging certain people in group photos.
  • Saying negative things about someone, without mentioning their name, a practice known as “Subtweeting.”
  • Making events on social media, without inviting certain friends.

“[Exclusion through social media] is a powerful form of social aggression,” says Dr. Underwood. “It is so subtle that its considered bad form [for teens] to respond. And [those who exclude] can do it with the full expectation that they will not pay one single social consequence.”


Is Social Media Addictive?

Research shows that social media users can indeed show signs of, if not an outright addiction, a heavy dependence on social media.

“I think they’re addicted to the peer connection and affirmation that they’re able to get via social media,” says Underwood. “So it’s not the screens. It’s not the devices. It’s the access that social media gives them to each other.”

Communicate and Participate

Open communication with your children can effectively remedy these kinds of problems. Here are a few suggestions from the #Being13 experts:

1. Talk with our children about their online lives and what they’re doing on social media. We need to get them talking to us from a young age.

“Parent monitoring effectively erased the negative effects of online conflicts of children on social media.”

2. Encourage them not to keep score. Don’t worry if you’re not tagged. Don’t tally up your likes. Don’t exclude other people. Just enjoy being connected with good friends.

3. Help kids remember that it’s possible to have fun in other ways.

4. Use the strength of your relationship with your child. Get them away from social media periodically – not as punishment, and not by ripping it out of their hands, but by simply reminding them that if it’s making them feel bad, they can find lots of alternative ways to interact with their friends and others.

For more specific, research-based tips on interacting with your kids on social media, check out this Y-Magazine article, How to Like Your Teens.


5 Expert Tips for Managing Your Kids’ Social Media Use

Social media is now an essential fiber in the thread of most adolescents’ social life. Kids and teens use social media everywhere. They use it at home, on the road, and even at baseball games. Although it is impossible to be absolutely certain that your kids are free from social threats on their social sites, parents can take some small and simple steps to secure some online safety for their kids and peace of mind for themselves.

One of the leading experts in teen social media use, Marion K. Underwood, visited BYU campus two weeks ago to present her findings on the subject. She suggests that parents:

Follow Their Kids

If you don’t have a social media account, get one! Your children can benefit from knowing that you will see what things they post, and some of what will be shared with them. Being your child’s friend and follower is a simple way to stay aware of what they experience, and even show you care.

Also, make sure to be more than a passive observer of social media content. Participate! Post, like, and comment on different material. Being a more active participant in social media will help you understand where your child is coming from. Dr. Underwood, as she received likes and responses to her personal social media content, recounted, “I was amazed at how thrilled I was.” She now has a better understanding of what her children feel as they participate in social media conversations.

Experiences like these will help you to empathize with your child. “By creating your own account and joining these platforms,” says Underwood, “You will understand the power of digital communication in a way you never thought possible.”


Take Away Phones at Night

“85% of the students in [our] study said they slept with their [phones] under their pillows so they could hear an incoming text message in the middle of the night. Disruption in sleep is terrible for adolescents,” said Underwood.

Further, when teens are alone in their rooms, they are more likely to subject themselves to negative content, which is widely available on all platforms. Making this quick rule will lessen the likelihood of teens dwelling on negative messages.


Set Specific Guidelines for Specific Situations

“I think we all need to structure our homes and our children’s time to avoid over-involvement with social media,” says Underwood. She suggests at least two ideas:

  • No phones during meals.

“[This includes] family meals at home, at restaurants, that includes parents – everybody has to put their phones away.”

  • No phones in the car.

“A rule that I had when I would miss my work time to drive children around in carpools was ‘no phones in the car,’ said Underwood. “If I’m spending my time to take my young ladies places, I wanted them to converse with me. So I would say, you’re not going to look at your phone . You’re going to talk about your day. And every family can come up with their own set of guidelines.”

Further, children and teens are capable of doing a lot of good on their various platforms. Encouraging children to engage in pro-social behavior on social media can be beneficial to overall mental health and well-being.

Setting these kinds of boundaries doesn’t absolutely assure that your home’s parent-child interaction will be full of green pastures, but it does mean that family stability will more easily prevail over the outside social world.


Talk Openly

Social media is a big deal to your kids. “Online experiences [are] vitally important to…students,” Underwood said. “When we asked them what was more important, their offline social experiences or their online experiences, they said online social experiences were more important in their lives.”

“I’m not a big fan of monitoring software,” says Underwood, “Young people are very smart about how to get around it and platforms change all the time. Our best hope of influencing their online conduct – their online experience, is to use our relationships to discuss with them.”

Invite Children to Help 

Children and teens can help you to help them. Dana Boyd, author of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens wrote: “What makes the digital street safe is when teens and adults collectively agree to open their eyes and pay attention, communicate, and collaboratively negotiate difficult situations.”


“Teens need the freedom to wander the digital street, but they also need to know that caring adults are behind them and supporting them wherever they go.”

You can have a positive influence on your children. It is never too late to begin implementing guidelines for a positive social media experience.

You can view Dr. Underwood’s full lecture here:



What guidelines do you have in YOUR home for social media use?