It’s no secret that when it comes to social networks, teen preferences can change dramatically from year to year. That holds with Twitter. Even though the social network has seen a dip in use overall, Twitter has proven its staying power among certain communities, and that includes teens.
According to a 2022 Pew Center Study, 23 percent of teens online use Twitter (down from 33 percent in 2014-15). Because of Twitter’s loyal fanbase, it’s important for tweeting teens as well as parents, and caregivers to understand how to engage safely on the fast-moving platform.
What do kids do on Twitter?
Many teens love the public aspect of Twitter. They see it as a fun place to connect with friends and stay up to date on sports, school news, memes, online trends and challenges, and popular culture. However, because the platform’s brief, 140–280-word format is so distinct from other popular networks such as TikTok, YouTube, and Snapchat, the online etiquette and ground rules for engagement are also distinct.
As fun as Twitter content is to share and consume, the platform still comes with hidden risks (as do all social networks).
Here’s a guide to help your family understand safe Twitter use and still have fun on this unique social network.
1. Think Before You Tweet
This is likely one of the most important phrases you can convey to your child when it comes to using Twitter. Every word shared online can have positive or negative repercussions. Twitter’s fast-moving, ticker-like feed can tempt users to underestimate the impact of an impulsive, emotionally charged tweet. Words—digital words especially—can cause harm to the reputation of the person tweeting or to others.
For this reason, consider advising your kids to be extra careful when sharing their thoughts or opinions, retweeting others, or responding to others’ tweets. We all know too well that content shared carelessly or recklessly online can affect future college or career opportunities for years to come.
2. Protect Personal Privacy
There’s little more important these days than protecting your family’s privacy. Every online risk can be traced to underestimating the magnitude of this single issue.
It’s never too early or too late to put the right tools in place to protect your family’s privacy online. While Twitter has privacy and reporting features designed to protect users, it’s wise to add a comprehensive identity and privacy protection solution to protect your family’s devices and networks.
Kids get comfortable with their online communities. This feeling of inclusion and belonging can lead to oversharing personal details. Discuss the importance of keeping personal details private online reminding your kids to never share their full name, address, phone number, or other identity or location-revealing details. This includes discerning posting photos that could include signage, school or workplace logos, and addresses. In addition, advise family members not to give away data just because there’s a blank. It’s wise to only share your birthday month and day and keep your birth year private.
3. (Re)Adjust Account Settings
When is the last time you reviewed social media account settings with your child? It’s possible that, over time, your child may have eased up on their settings. Privacy settings on Twitter are easy to understand and put in place. Your child’ can control their discoverability, set an account to be public or private, and protect their tweets from public search. It’s easy to filter out unwanted messages, limit messages from people you don’t follow, and limit who can see your Tweets or tag you in photos. It’s also possible to filter the topics you see.
4. Recognize Cyberbullying
Respecting others is foundational to engaging on any social network. This includes honoring the beliefs, cultures, traditions, opinions, and choices of others. Cyberbullying plays out in many ways on Twitter and one of those ways is by subtweeting. This vague form of posting is a form of digital gossip. Subtweeting is when one Twitter user posts a mocking or critical tweet that alludes to another Twitter user without directly mentioning their name. It can be cruel and harmful. Discuss the dangers of subtweeting along with the concept of empathy. Also, encourage your child to access the platform’s social media guidelines and know how to unfollow, block, and report cyberbullies on Twitter.
5. Monitor Mental Health
Maintaining a strong parent-child bond is essential to your child’s mental health and the first building block of establishing strong online habits. Has your child’s mood suddenly changed? Are they incessantly looking at their phone? Have their grades slipped? An online conflict, a risky situation, or some type of bullying may be the cause. You don’t have to hover over your child’s social feeds every day, but it’s important to stay involved in their daily life to support their mental health. If you do monitor their social networks, be sure to check the tone and intent of comments, captions, and replies. You will know bullying and subtweeting when you see it.
6. Highlight Responsibility
We love to quote Spiderman’s uncle Ben Parker and remind families that “with great power comes great responsibility” because it sums up technology ownership and social media engagement perfectly. The more time kids spend online, the more comfortable they can become and the more lapses in judgment can occur. Consider discussing (and repeating often) that social media isn’t a right, it’s a privilege that carries responsibility and consequences.
7. Know & Discuss Risks
The FBI estimates there are approximately 500,000 predators active online each day and that they all have multiple profiles. Anonymous, catfish, and fake accounts abound online wooing even the savviest digital native into an unsafe situation. Engaging on any social network can expose kids to a wide array of possible dangers including scammers, catfishes, and predators. Scams and predator tactics continue to get more sophisticated. For this reason, it’s important to candidly talk about online predator awareness and the ever-evolving tactics bad actors will go to deceive minors online.
Twitter continues to attract tweens and teens who appreciate its brevity and breaking news. While navigating online safety and social media can be daunting for parents, it’s critical to stay engaged with your child and understand their digital life. By establishing an open flow of communication and regularly discussing privacy and appropriate online behavior, you can create a culture of openness in your family around important issues. We’re rooting for you!
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