How to Stay Safe on Social Media
at Every Age

See also: Problematic Smartphone Use

Social media is a staple in most people’s daily lives, whether sharing opinions about the latest celebrity gossip, watching viral videos, posting vacation photos, or sharing news stories with friends. As the world becomes more digital and tech-driven, social media apps grow in popularity and change the way people interact with each other.

It’s clear that more and more people worldwide are joining social media apps and becoming digital citizens. As a parent, you might feel concerned about whether or not your children should be able to create their own social media accounts. Although the internet and social media platforms are entertaining, they can also become dangerous for certain vulnerable populations.

Is it possible to stay safe on social media? How should different age groups use social media and avoid dangerous situations? Continue reading to learn about internet safety and how people of all ages can stay safe online.

What Is Internet Safety?

Internet safety involves users following online guidelines, understanding modern technology, and protecting their digital devices from potential cybersecurity threats. The internet is jam-packed with information, some of which is harmful to people of certain ages.

An important aspect of internet safety is making safe choices. Some choices include using usernames and passwords, implementing multi-factor authentication, verifying someone’s identity, not talking to strangers, and not sharing private details. For example, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) suggests that users do not disclose details such as:

  1. Home and email addresses
  2. Cell phone numbers
  3. Personal or intimate photos
  4. Banking or credit card information
  5. Employer or school names
  6. Age
  7. Social Security numbers (SSN)
  8. Family names
  9. Car information (license plate, VIN number)
  10. Birth date

Unfortunately, the proliferation of social media over time has opened the door to new threats and cybercrime. In addition to having their social media accounts hacked and private information stolen, some individuals are major targets for those with malicious intentions in the real world.

Criminals Target Users of Different Ages

Many people compare the internet to the Wild West because it’s somewhat unregulated. While more countries are trying to gain some control over internet usage, data privacy, and cybercrime, there can be some gray areas.

People use blackmail, coercion, and extortion to force users to meet at an offline, physical location, which can turn dark quickly. In fact, 40% of sex trafficking victims are recruited online and 80% of the U.S. Department of Justice’s sex trafficking prosecutions include online advertising schemes.

In 2021, the Rupert Police Department in Idaho reported that online predators target just about anyone. Still, there was a significant increase in predators targeting children online during the pandemic.

Detective Sergeant Sam Kuoha posed as a child online and a predator targeted his profile in a matter of minutes. Kuoha mentions that, in his experience, most online predators have prior criminal offenses.

Dangerous online activities do not discriminate, meaning someone can become a victim regardless of age. Dangerous situations that begin on the internet can have far-reaching implications. In other words, activities that seem harmless online can span beyond the internet.

How to Stay Safe on Social Media Platforms at Every Age

Anyone using the internet – regardless of age, sexuality, gender, marital status, income level, and other factors – is a potential criminal target. So, how can social media users of varying ages safely navigate the internet and popular digital platforms?

Young Children (Ages 5-8)

Young children are often interested in social media and want to create accounts. Any child below reading age would not benefit much from social media sites and parents often use YouTube to play age-appropriate content for their children.

Some social media sites have age requirements or restrictions to ensure young children are not exposed to inappropriate content. For example, Facebook has a minimum age requirement of 13 years old. However, curious children might create an account without telling their parents, exposing them to dangerous activity, online or offline.

It’s suggested that children ages 5 through 8 should use the internet with parental supervision. They can also use kid-friendly search engines and websites for their protection.

Pre-teens or “Tweens” (Ages 9-12)

Kids between the ages of 9 and 12 often feel more inclined to use social media, especially if their peers use these platforms. In her book, Jean M. Twenge – a professor of psychology at San Diego State University – suggests that anyone below the age of 13 should be considered “too young” for social media use.

A growing amount of research shows that social media might cause users to experience low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and body dysmorphia. While reports of the negative impacts of social media on a user’s mental health are widespread, more research is needed to determine how a user’s age plays a role.

Young Teens (Ages 13-15)

Many parents allow their 13-to-15-year-olds to use social media and some benefits exist. For example, this age group can build online friendships, network with peers, find support, gain a sense of community, and be entertained.

However, young teenagers are starting to experience puberty and life transitions, especially as they enter middle school. This can be a challenging time for kids, and adding social media on top of it may not be the best idea for every young teenager. Parents should discuss social media openly with their young teens, develop appropriate boundaries, set reasonable limits, monitor their social media posts, and explain unacceptable internet behaviors.

Additionally, parents must encourage their children to socialize with their friends, engage in sports, pursue their interests, take on a new hobby, and focus on academics. This will help young teens become well-rounded individuals.

Teenagers (Ages 16-19)

When children reach the older teenage years, most of them want to use social media. Young people enjoy social media for many reasons, whether it’s Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, or YouTube. However, teenagers’ brains are not yet fully developed, increasing their chances of engaging in risky behavior.

Around this age, teens experience peer pressure to engage in certain adult activities, such as drinking, using drugs, having sex, and watching explicit content.

Because of this, parents should have open conversations about the potential risks of these activities and how to use the internet appropriately. Teens often act without thinking about the possible consequences. Parents should outline the results to their teens and encourage them to be safe on social media.

Adults (Ages 20-64)

Adults should also be aware of the risks of using social media. While many adults know more about the dangers of the internet than young people, they are not completely immune to becoming victims of cybercrime.

People between the ages of 20 to 64 should follow some basic internet safety precautions, such as using unique passwords, sharing personal information, or clicking on malicious links. Phishing, malware, ransomware, and crypto scams are all becoming more common, so it’s important to be vigilant on social media.

Aside from internet safety, adults on the internet should try to improve their media literacy. Because members of the older generations are not digital natives, some users are digitally illiterate. No matter their education level, adults can still be manipulated to believe what they read on the internet, even if there is no evidence to back up false information.

Older Adults (Ages 65+)

Older people are not perceived as tech-savvy individuals, which actually makes them a perfect target for cybercrimes. Scammers and other malicious actors will interact with older adults to steal their sensitive information, particularly financial information.

According to AARP, cybercrime and online fraud that targeted older people cost around $3 billion in 2021 alone. Suppose older people choose to use the latest social media apps. In that case, they should understand that hackers, catfishing, and automated bots exist so they can protect themselves.

Prioritizing Internet Safety in an Increasingly Digital World

When social media websites started to gain traction, they served as connected online communities for young populations to join. However, people began using these platforms for matters of business, dating, politics, communication, entertainment, and more.

Internet safety might not be discussed very often. Still, if it were, cybercrime, cyberbullying, and offline crime would probably occur less frequently. People of all ages can benefit greatly from the internet, but only if they use it responsibly and ethically.

About the Author

Ava Roman (she/her) is the Managing Editor of Revivalist, a women’s lifestyle magazine that empowers women to live their most authentic life. When Ava is not writing you'll find her in a yoga class, advocating for body positivity, whipping up something delicious in the kitchen, or smashing the patriarchy.