Rules or Guidelines?

Parental best practice for social media

By Mabel Truong

Parents implement rules on their child’s social media use to keep them safe, and we spoke to both young people and their parents about the type of rules they have in their families.

Young people often understand the reasons for the rules their parents put in place. However, they also identified the social impact of strict social media rules. We found that many parents assume that their children are unaware of online safety and risks associated with social media. However, the young people we spoke to demonstrated safe online practices such as not speaking to strangers, turning location sharing off, making their accounts private, setting strong passwords, and asking permission from their parents for signing up to a social media site .

Other recurring types of rules that young people told us about include using a parent’s account to access social media, or their parent’s email which also allowed their parent to monitor their child’s online activity. Asking for their parents permission was a common practice for young people when they wanted to create their first social media account. However, there were some young people who would secretly create their own account. Young people identified parents as an initial barrier to accessing their accounts and that a lot of “nagging” was often involved. Regardless, there were some young people with parents that were quite relaxed about social media, with an understanding that social media is an important medium of social interaction for young people.

Young people commented on how their parents compare their rules with other families, with peer pressure to try to fit into what other families are doing. Along with this, young people believed their parents held a lot of misunderstandings about the internet. This was particularly the case for parents for whom English is not their first language and who are not users of social media. This also fostered some anxiety among the young people who were relied on to explain social media and how it works to their parents.

The term “addiction” was commonly used to argue for the rules implemented. A common rule that parents enforce is “no mobile phones at night”. Parents also shared that they find it hard to balance the use of technology with their other commitments and hobbies. A key factor that we found contributed to the style of parental mediation of their children’s use was whether their parents used social media themselves.

Some strategies which demonstrated effective partnership between the child and parent included: sitting down with their parents to accept followers together and talking about what interested them about what they did online. Overtime, this naturally evolved into parents trusting that their child was using social media safely and appropriately. Overall, building and sustaining their parents’ trust was a key theme.