Social media is pervasive in our world today–especially for the average teenager. From selfies to location tagging, and “day in the life” videos shared on social media, it’s become increasingly common for teens to use social media and overshare details of their lives online. In one survey, around two-thirds of teens (65%) reported that they use social media multiple times a day (Bartlett, 2023), while 46% of teens reported in another study that they are online almost constantly (SmartSocial, 2022).
Teens also say they commonly use social media to post selfies, update their location and what they're doing, and share self-recorded videos (Anderson, M. & Jiang, J., 2018). Just under one-fourth (16%) of the teens surveyed say they often share selfies on social media, while nearly half (45%) say they sometimes share selfies on social media. Additionally, 42% of teens share updates on their whereabouts, and 41% share self-recorded videos (Anderson, M. & Jiang, J., 2018).
Not only do teens post often on social media, but many of them also post with the intention to go viral for everyone and anyone to see. Around 29% of teens surveyed say they post regularly in hopes of going viral on social media. Teen girls in the survey also reported they are more likely to post selfies on social media (every six out of ten girls) than teen boys (30%) (Anderson, M. & Jiang, J., 2018). With high numbers of teens using and posting on social media, it’s important for parents to remain aware of what content their teens share online and to actively teach them about media literacy.
Why is it important for parents to inform their teens about media literacy on social media?
In many cases, teens may know more about social media than their parents. However, that does not mean they fully understand the real-life dangers and consequences of posting photos, videos, and other identifiable information online. Therefore, it is important for parents to learn about these dangers and to teach their children about media literacy and safe social media practices.
When a person shares information online, anyone could be viewing the content. You never know who could be viewing your children’s social media posts and what their intentions are. They could be scammers, creeps, or anyone with ill intent. Some of the online dangers your teens could be exposed to include identity fraud, AI-generated porn of minors, digital kidnapping, and general damage to their reputation, to name a few.
Photo abuse can be directly attributed to each of these dangers. This is when photos posted on social media are stolen and manipulated by others with bad intentions–and it happens way more often than you’d think. Most photos are stolen within the first 10 seconds of sharing on social media (Ohwovoriole, 2021). This means even if you delete it soon after posting it, the photo could already be stolen.
As parents, protecting your children is your number one priority. Just as you’d protect your children from physical harm, you also need to consider how to protect them on social media and other online spaces.
However many parents admit to not discussing the dangers of social media with their children. According to a 2016 survey, less than half of the 1,780 parents surveyed reported that they discuss social media and media literacy with their children (American Counseling Association, 2021).
Discussing with your teens the safety precautions they should take when posting on social media and learning about media literacy are all key ways to keep them safe online. Yet, approaching these topics with your teens in a way that is heard may be difficult for some parents. Here are a few ways you can approach discussing media literacy with your teens:
Tips for discussing media literacy with your teens and young children
- Begin discussions of media literacy and safe practices on social media early: The younger you can begin conversations about media literacy, the better. Children are exposed to social media at a very young age, so it’s important to provide them with the tools they need to not only discern what is real, but also what safe social media practices are. As they grow older, they will be equipped with the knowledge to protect themselves in online spaces and likely be more receptive to participating in discussions about their social media usage. However, if your children are already older, it’s never too late to begin these conversations. It’s better to discuss them now, rather than never at all (Bologna, 2020).
- Discuss recent news events with your teens: Many teens are aware of news events way more than the previous generations of teens. Anytime something happens in the news related to photo abuse, deepfakes, identity fraud, or incorrect information is debunked in the media, take the opportunity to discuss these events with your teens. This approach can be a subtle way to introduce the topic of media literacy in a way that is removed from their own social media usage. This approach may feel less overbearing for teens, as it’ll be perceived as a discussion of current events rather than a lecture.
- Similarly, open the discussion further when your child or teen brings up relevant social media topics: If your teen starts talking about something their peer posted on social media with you, this can be a great opportunity to discuss media literacy and what is safe to post on social media. Ask for their opinions on the topic, what the person shared, and what they believe is safe to post on social media. This can be another way to begin these types of conversations with your teens in a way that may be more relevant and heard–and most importantly–does not come across as a parenting lecture.
- Ask your teens what they already know about media literacy: Learning about what your teens already know about media literacy and what constitutes safe practices on social media is integral to beginning these sorts of conversations. By gaining insight into what they already know, you can fill in the gaps and correct any misconceptions. This way, you can have a more impactful conversation with your teen, rather than explaining information they may already know. If they already know certain parts, they may not be as receptive to the conversation and it may even come across as lecturing.
- Open the discussion up to feedback on your own social media usage: A great way to open up or create ongoing conversations about media literacy is to ask your teens how you can improve your own media literacy and privacy online. Encouraging your teens to think critically about your social media usage can strengthen both you and your teen's knowledge of media literacy and provide an outlet for ongoing discussions. By asking for feedback, you can foster a learning environment for the both of you and avoid a tone that may be perceived as a lecture.
Keep your children’s photos safe on social media
- Join online safety initiatives such as Parents for Image Consent (P.I.C.): During the holidays, billions of selfies will be posted by teens in the United States on social platforms, representing the busiest selfie posting period of the year. P.I.C. was created by parents concerned about the issue of image abuse, and the potential for the children to be victimized by it. The group seeks to alert parents to the issue and encourage them to work with their children to ensure that they post safe selfies during holidays and other moments throughout the year. “Image abuse affects 1 in 5 Americans and it’s important for parents to know where their kids’ selfies end up after they post them,” says Cathy Pedrayes, online safety expert and National Chairperson for P.I.C.
- Monitor how your family’s photos are used with a service such as ImageShield: For most people, it’s impossible to track where all their photos are being used across the internet without additional help. ImageShield is a service that helps people protect the photographs and other images they share from being abused. By using a photo monitoring and protection service such as ImageShield, you can find out whether the photos you’ve shared on Facebook, Instagram, and elsewhere are being used in a way they shouldn’t be.
Get your free ImageShield report today on the security of the photos you’ve shared on Facebook and Instagram. Visit our blogs for more information on media literacy and how to protect yourself and your family from photo abuse.
American Counseling Association. (2021, November 3). Talking About Social Media and Digital Literacy with Kids. Retrieved September 27, 2023, from https://www.counseling.org/news/aca-blogs/aca-counseling-corner/aca-counseling-corner-blog/2021/11/03/talking-about-social-media-and-digital-literacy-with-kids
Anderson, M. & Jiang, J. (2018, November 28). Teens and their experiences on social media. Retrieved October 15, 2023, from
Bartlett, B. (2023, March 8). Media Literacy for Kids and Teenagers. Kidslox. Retrieved September 27, 2023, from https://www.counseling.org/news/aca-blogs/aca-counseling-corner/aca-counseling-corner-blog/2021/11/03/talking-about-social-media-and-digital-literacy-with-kids
Bologna, C. (2020, November 12). How To Teach Kids Media Literacy. HuffPost. Retrieved September 27, 2023, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/parents-teach-kids-media-literacy_l_5fab43e3c5b6ed84597c3fc4
SmartSocial. (2022, February 14). Teen Social Media Statistics 2022 (What Students and Parents Need to Know). Retrieved October 15, 2023, from https://smartsocial.com/post/social-media-statistics
Ohwovoriole, T. (2021, August 12). How to Safely Share Photos of Your Child on Social Media. Verywell Family. Retrieved September 6, 2023, from https://www.verywellfamily.com/how-to-safely-share-photos-of-your-kids-on-social-media-5191030
Photo by cottonbro studio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-girl-in-red-sweater-holding-her-phone-while-talking-to-her-friend-6214560/