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Help Your Child Stay Safe Online

In this month’s newsletter and in our recent webinar with TikTok and the National PTA, you’ll learn about ways you can help your child navigate safely online, with a focus on internet / social media challenges.

Internet challenges have been part of the digital landscape for over a decade. While most present opportunities for harmless fun or even societal good, the challenges that often receive the most attention from kids are the ones that are cruel to others or involve dangerous stunts.

In the sea of viral challenges, how do you help your child take part in the ones that are fun, social, and safe and walk away from the ones that aren’t?


Why are internet challenges so appealing?

Adolescent brains are rapidly developing, working to refine impulse control and long-term decision making while they are simultaneously figuring out who they are, trying on different identities, and moving away from their parents to bond more closely with friends.

Social media challenges offer excitement and look fun, especially when harmful consequences are minimized. These challenges tap directly into adolescents’ fear of missing out and need to belong; they want to take part in the activities they see their friends, influencers, and celebrities enjoying.

While 80% of TikTok users reported in a recent study that the challenges they saw online were lighthearted and safe and posed minimal risk, there are many that involve a high risk of injury or destruction. Adolescents, whose brains are still developing abstract and critical thinking skills, are often unable to make a distinction between safe and unsafe challenges.

How can I help my child make wise choices?

Watch what they watch. At a time when you’re hanging out and both feeling relaxed, ask your child to share some of their favorite videos or social media challenges with you. Watch them together on the same device and be curious — even if the content seems silly to you, try to share their enthusiasm and find something positive to say (assuming the content is harmless).

Talk with, not to, your child. If you think something is harmful or unsafe, ask open-ended questions such as, “why do you like this one?” or “do you think this is dangerous or could hurt someone?” followed by “why/why not?” and listen to their answers. When you resist the urge to interrupt and avoid judgment, you help your child come to a conclusion on their own.

Teach them how to pause before saying “yes.” When your child is faced with a decision, such as whether or not to participate in a social media challenge, accept a friend invitation from someone they don’t know, or engage with others while playing an online video game, help them learn how to:

  1. Stop for a moment

  2. Think through the pros and cons of the action they are considering

  3. Decide what’s best for their mental / emotional / social / physical health

  4. Act, either by taking part or choosing not to

Join in on the fun! Many social media challenges are positive, such as #TrashTag or #365GratefulProject; silly, think the Pillow Challenge or Pet TicTacToe; or just plain fun, like so many dance challenges. Get out of your comfort zone and do one with your child or offer to film them doing it. By taking part, you’ll make memories together and your child will be more likely to share what they are doing online with you in the future.


Additional Resources

Let’s Talk TikTok Challenges: This post by Trend Micro provides an overview of viral online challenges and some parental features that are available specifically on TikTok.

TikTok Guide for Parents: A Collaboration Between TikTok and National PTA: Instructions for setting up controls and notifications on the TikTok app.

Viral Social Media Challenges: A parent-facing overview of challenges and some ways to start conversations with your child.

We’re Hiring!

Librarian / Knowledge Manager

We are seeking a skilled content analyst and knowledge manager to expand the Lab’s comprehensive Media Health Effects research database and provide reference services to support our impact-focused work.

If you are a learning- and detail-oriented professional interested in the topics of human development, psychology, and media/technology and who is seeking a role within which they can grow professionally and directly contribute to young people’s health and wellness, this could be a perfect fit for you.


Clinical Research Specialist

We are seeking a skilled Clinical Research Specialist to become a key member of a small research team. You will collaborate with colleagues to design studies, collect data, and conduct analyses related to deepening our understanding of young people’s digital wellness.

This is an exciting opportunity for an early career researcher with an interest in human development, adolescent health, media and technology, psychology, or related fields of study.