Social networking: a parent's guide
Social networks open up a world of fun for kids, but they can be a worry for parents. O2 and the NSPCC are here to help you keep them safe.
Social networks are online places where kids can catch up with family, friends and people to share the things they like. The most famous is Facebook, where users can share news, comments, pictures and video.
Other social networks concentrate on sharing a particular type of content, such as YouTube for videos and Instagram for photos.
Talking to your child about what they share is really important, as everything they post online builds up a picture of who they are and there is some information they should keep private. Some social networks such as Facebook can also tag the location of posts made from mobile devices, so make sure that's turned off. Get advice about sharing online.
- Getting started
If you need help finding a site that’s right for your child a great place to start is Net Aware, a site we've developed with NSPCC.
It's packed with reviews from O2 staff and customers, advice and recommendations from children themselves, and other parents like you. If you have younger children, setting up their account with them is a great way to explore, set boundaries and start having conversations together. Think about what parental controls are in place and explain to your child that they're there to keep them safe.
- Get involved
Every family will have their own approach to staying safe online, but try to talk regularly with your kids about what they've been doing online. Encourage them to come to you immediately with anything that makes them feel uncomfortable and know how to block content or report things on websites. As a parent, the most important thing is to set a good example and show your children what safe sharing looks like.
Kids of all ages will be looking at different forms of social networking. See what you should be looking out for.
- Age 4 and under
The internet can be a fantastic learning resource, with games and apps to help develop your child's memory and speech, as well as explore their creativity and keep them entertained. Online time should be family time though. Always accompany your child online, and protect your devices with passwords so that they can't access them accidentally.
- Age 5-7
'Proper' social networks will still be off‑limits, but social games such as Disney's Club Penguin are a great way for your kids to dip a toe in the water, with a bit of parental supervision. Just keep an eye on in-app purchases, set clear boundaries for use and start talking about staying safe and what to do if they have a concern.
- Age 8-11
Social networks will start to come onto the radar, but try to resist for now. Facebook doesn't allow users younger than 13 to join. You may also be thinking about your child's first phone or tablet. Talk to an O2 Guru about enabling parental controls and consider using app store gift cards to limit how much they spend on downloads.
- Age 12-15
Children are legally allowed to use most social networks at 13. Discuss what's safe to share, and help set up their account. They may let you follow or friend them, but they'll also want some independence, so talk regularly about what they're doing online and who they're chatting to so they know they can come to you if something goes wrong.
- Age 16+
Your teenager will no doubt be a social networking pro by now and may well be experimenting with internet dating and meeting new people online. Respect their space, as you would in real life, and resist the temptation to snoop by chatting openly about what they're up to. This way, you can check they're sharing information wisely.