What is social networking?

Social Networking websites allow users to connect and communicate with others. People use social networking to keep in touch with friends, family, colleagues and to meet new people they haven't met in the real world. You've probably heard of some of them; the top 5 are Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Reddit. According to NSPCC research 87% of children identified Facebook as their 'main social profile' in 2013.

You may also have heard about them in the news - either in connection with child abusers making contact with young people online or young people themselves using the sites to bully and target others. However, young people can protect themselves and behave responsibly when using social networking sites - if they know how to.

While each site is a little different, they have similar characteristics and allow users to do similar things, such as:

Create a personal profile

Personal profile pages enable people of all ages to create a webpage about themselves - and they are popular with young people and adults alike. The page can include information such as name, contact details, address and location, birthday, photo, likes and interests and allows users to 'post' or upload comments about themselves onto the page. Most sites have a minimum age of 13 to join. However research undertaken by the NSPCC (November 2013); Lilley & Ball (2013) demonstrated that half of 11 and 12 year olds in the UK have a profile on a site with a minimum age of at least 13. Worryingly 11 and 12 year olds were more likely to have experienced something upsetting while using a site with a minimum age of 13 (e.g. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter). The majority of ongoing upsetting incidents experienced online by 11-12 year olds were caused by strangers or people they only knew online.

Top Tips

  • If your child wants to use a social networking site, create their profile with them. You could ask them to show you how it's done.
  • Make sure they understand not to post personal details such as home address, email address, mobile number, school name etc. and that this information is private to them and not for sharing.
  • Explain that what gets put on the Internet can live forever (even if you later remove a picture it may have been copied by someone else and posted elsewhere).
  • Talk to your child about their username and password choice. Make sure their password cannot be easily guessed and ensure they know not to tell anyone except you what it is - even their friends.

Set Privacy Settings

Privacy settings allow people to adjust who has access to what information. So, for example, you could set privacy settings to the lowest level and allow everyone to see all of the information on your personal profile. Or - and this is what we recommend, especially for young people - you should set the levels to their highest, allowing only your friends to see your profile and information.

Be aware that privacy settings can change frequently. As new applications are added to social networking sites, so are new privacy settings. So it is essential that you keep an eye on these.

Top Tips

More information on Facebook privacy settings here: http://www.facebook.com/privacy/explanation.php

Follow this link for a video on how to set privacy settings:

Facebook: A Parent's Guide

This step-by-step Parent's Guide to Facebook was created by Connect Safely (www.connectsafely.org/about-us/)

Facebook Keeping your account safe

Make 'Friends'

Once a profile page has been created, the user can connect to people they know who also have a profile on the website. This 'connection' will mean that they can now see each other's personal information, photos and send each other messages.

Make sure that children and young people understand that 'friends' should be people they know, like family members or school friends. Talk to your child about how people they only meet online may not be who they say they are and that if someone they do not know wants to be their friend they should check it out with you or another trusted adult first. Remind them that they should never meet someone in person who they have only ever spoken to on the Internet.

Top Tips

Send Messages

Social networking sites allow users to talk to each other using an internal email or message system. This means that they can communicate privately rather than on the main profile pages.

Some social networking sites also allow you to chat instantly or in real time with someone else. See more about this in the 'Online Chat and Instant Messaging (IM)' section.

Top Tips

Post pictures

Profile pages allow the user to add a main picture of themselves and on most sites you can create albums and add hundreds of pictures. Sometimes, in the privacy settings you can control who can see your pictures e.g. everyone, friends of friends or just friends.

Top Tips

Write a 'blog'

A blog is much like a diary or journal. Adults who run 'blogs' often focus on a particular subject such as food, parenting or technology. A typical blog can include text, pictures, video and links to other web pages of interest. Children and young people may want to use a blog much like they would a diary.

Top Tips

On-going interaction is essential

Think about your child's online activity much like you think about their offline activity. You can have rules just as you do in the offline world - these could be about when and where they can access their social networking website, whether they are allowed to post pictures of themselves online or if they are allowed to open new profiles or join other websites without talking with you first.

Keep interested in their online activity by asking questions about what they are doing, who their friends are, what their friends are doing and if they have made any new ones. You should ask to see their profile now and again, and those of their friends, and if they are sharing pictures or writing a blog you can review these together. Also, check out the privacy settings from time to time to ensure they are set appropriately.

Remind your child that if anything happens that makes them feel uncomfortable or scared, they can talk to you about it. Reassure them you will not get cross or upset if they have made mistakes or got involved in risky behaviour online. Make them aware that you can help them in these circumstances.

If you want to report something that has happened online, you can do this by visiting the Child Exploitation and Protection Centre (CEOP) www.ceop.police.uk.

Online Grooming

Online Grooming is another issue that we need to be aware of in order to protect children on the internet and is closely linked to social networking, find out more here.