How to keep your teen safe on Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook

 Logos of the Social Media companies Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp.
Logos of the Social Media companies Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp. (Andreas Prott / Alamy Stock Phot)

Does your teenager use any of the Meta apps such as WhatsApp, Instagram or Facebook?

While the apps offer great enjoyment and connectivity with friends, you may have concerns about your child viewing unsuitable content for their age, experiencing online bullying, or even worse, exposure to unwanted messages from strangers.

Did you know that WhatsApp has a minimum age rating of 16+, while Instagram and Facebook are for teens aged 13+?

HELLO! spoke to Tara Hopkins, Meta’s Global Director for Public Policy, for advice on keeping our kids safe on their platforms.

Friends holding mobile phones sharing social media content
Friends holding mobile phones sharing social media content (Getty)

Tara, what are the benefits for teens of using Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook?

For young people in particular, Instagram provides a great place for self-expression and connecting with friends. We always love hearing from teenagers who have used Instagram to explore different hobbies and interests or meet friends who are into the same things as them and connect with like-minded people.

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What are the top three things that parents can do to keep their teens safe on Instagram? 

Start talking early:  Using social media can be a really exciting time for young people, but we must make sure they feel they can talk to their parents about it, and feel empowered to use our platforms in a positive way.

It’s important to start having these conversations early - I really encourage parents to start having these conversations well before their child even has their first phone. I also try and put myself in their shoes. I remember the difficult conversations I had with my parents growing up so listening to them and what they want is really important.

There's lots of advice out there from organisations like Parentzone to help you get started, I’ve used them myself to talk to my kids.

Activate Parental Supervision Tools: We’ve added a host of tools to help parents understand and help their teenagers use our apps. We know that these can be particularly useful as a young person begins their journey on social media and also provides peace of mind for parents.

Using them allows you as a parent to see more information about when your teen reports an account or post. These tools can also guide the use of our apps, including setting time limits, seeing who their teen follows and who follows them, and having access to their privacy settings.

Get help from experts: There's no right answer when it comes to parenting through the digital age, so we’ve worked with a host of experts and charities to help us with this.

Check out our parents’ guide on our website which has a wealth of material on how to keep teens safe online. And ask your friends with older children. I find that parents are always happy to share their experiences.

The Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp icons
The Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp icons (Alamy)

What should a parent or teen do if they come across harmful content on your apps? 

Report it! And talk about it. We hope young people never come across harmful content in the first place, but if they do, it’s really important that they report this directly using our in-app reporting tools.

It’s all anonymous, which means no information about the person who has reported the content will ever be shared with the person whose account, post, or comment has been reported. And let your teen know they can talk to you about it, or another trusted adult.

How does Meta handle cyber bullying and how can parents report this?

Cyberbullying is something we hope no one ever has to experience but unfortunately, bullying is a reality for most of us, whether we are a teen or not. We have features to help teens and parents manage their experience and have more control over what they see and who they interact with.

We also have an amazing feature called Hidden Words which allows users to filter specific words out of direct messages and comments so they never have to see them. We also encourage our community to block users they don’t want to interact with, meaning they won’t be able to find your account or message you.

Another feature we know is extremely popular with young people is 'Restrict' - this allows someone to temporarily stop certain people from messaging them and commenting on their posts but the poster won't be aware. It’s one of our most popular tools among teens we speak to.

What daily screen time or app limits does Meta recommend for teens on their apps, for staying mentally healthy? 

We really want teens to find a healthy balance when it comes to screen time and making sure that the time they do spend on our apps is meaningful.

That’s why we introduced our 'Take A Break' feature, which allows teens to make informed decisions about how they’re spending their time on our apps. If someone has been scrolling for an extended period, they will be notified to 'Take a Break'.

You can also set reminders - something I’m sure many of your readers will already be doing!

We’ve had some really encouraging results, with over 90% of teens deciding to keep their reminders switched on once they’ve set them up on their profile. Parents can also set limits using our parental control features.