How to use built-in parental controls on Instagram, TikTok, and more
But no tool can replace an honest and educational talk about online privacy and security.
When the time is right, you’ll probably want to give your kids a smartphone. This is a practical decision that requires education about the dangers of certain apps and websites and setting limits and protections to ensure children use their new device safely.
Both Android phones and iPhones have built-in system-wide safety measures that allow you to limit the sites your kids can see, the apps they’re allowed to run, or the time they spend on their device each day.
But some apps also have parental controls included—social media is no exception. These bespoke settings let you tailor an app to be suitable for your kids, keeping them away from inappropriate content and making sure they’re using social platforms responsibly.
In TikTok on your child’s phone, tap Profile, the menu button (three lines, top right), then go to Settings and privacy, and Digital Wellbeing. Here you can set a daily screen time limit, and turn on a restricted mode that filters out potentially inappropriate content—both options are protected with a PIN code, so your child won’t be able to change these options without knowing the code.
[Related: When to have the online-security talk with your kids]
There are some other configurations worth looking at in the Privacy menu (under Settings and privacy). For example, you can turn off comments and mentions, and prevent anyone else from sending a direct message to your child through TikTok (tap Direct messages then No one). These options aren’t PIN protected though, so your child could just change them back again.
If you also have a TikTok account, you can go further. From the Settings and privacy menu, pick Family Pairing to link your account to your kid’s. This gives you access to the screen time and restricted mode settings remotely, so you don’t have to keep grabbing your youngster’s phone every time you want to change something. It also lets you turn off direct messages remotely, so your kid won’t be able to turn them back on.
Most of the options you’re going to be interested in are on the Privacy menu. For example, you can disable message and group chat requests from users that your kid isn’t following, (under Messages), as well as make the child’s account private, so follower requests have to be specifically approved (use the Private account toggle switch at the top). Unfortunately, your kid can undo any of these tweaks, whenever they want to.
There’s no way to really control what your child does on Instagram, but you can oversee their activity by making your own account and connecting it to theirs. To do this, open the app on your phone, go to the Settings panel and pick Supervision then Create invitation. Assuming your child accepts it, you’ll be able to see who they are following and who is following them, as well as how much time they’re spending on the app.
From the same Supervision menu you can set time limits if you want to. What’s more, if your kid reports someone on Instagram (for bullying, for example), they can choose to send a report to you through the Family Center as well as to Instagram. However, you won’t be able to read their messages, or if they’re posting privately, you won’t see their posts unless they’ve accepted your follow request.
To do so, you, as a parent, will need your own Snapchat account, so if you don’t have one, start there. Otherwise, open the app and go to your settings page by tapping your profile picture (top left) and then the cog icon (top right). Scroll down, and under Privacy Control you’ll find the new Family Center. This feature mostly allows parents and guardians to do three things: see who their kid is friends with, who they have been communicating with over the past seven days, and report abuse directly to the Snapchat team. It’s important to note that this will not grant access to any content kids share—that includes text messages and images.
Just like Instagram’s parental controls, Snapchat’s are opt-in, which means your kid will have to accept your invitation to join Family Center before you can see any of your child’s information. On top of that, the platform sends the invitation as a direct message, so if your kid has a private account where only friends can contact them, it won’t reach them. You’ll have to get them to add you as a friend first. You should also keep in mind that just like any other Snapchat message, Family Center invitations disappear immediately or after 24 hours after your kid sees it, depending on how they’ve set up their preferences. So if they don’t respond right away or within that time frame, you’ll have to send the invitation again.
Once they join, you’ll be able to check on your young’uns by visiting Family Center and tapping on a kid’s name. Teens will also have access to the feature in the same place, which means they’ll be able to see exactly what adults can see about them. Finally, keep in mind that Snapchat’s parental controls have age limits that count for kids and adults—anyone monitoring a minor’s account cannot be under 25 years old, while kids can only be between 13 (the youngest age allowed by the platform) and 18.
Facebook (available for Android and iOS) isn’t all that popular with the kids these days, but your youngsters may well have accounts that they use for keeping in touch with family. Facebook is the only platform on this list that has no built-in parental controls, so you’ll need to talk over the relevant privacy settings with your kid.
From inside the app, tap the menu button (three horizontal lines, top right), then pick Settings & privacy and Settings. If you pick Your time on Facebook you’ll find tools for limiting how long your child spends in the app—you’ll need to reach an agreement on these together, as there’s nothing to stop your kid making further changes to these settings in the future.
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It’s worth checking out the Profile information section (to see the information your child is sharing with the wider world) and the How people can find and contact you section (to make sure your child isn’t too easy to find on Facebook). Meanwhile, under Posts, you can set the visibility of anything your youngster posts on the social network.
Under Profile and tagging, you and your child are able to set who is able to tag (or mention) them in posts, and who is able to post on their Facebook profile—these are options that you might want to restrict in some way for youngsters. At the very least, you’ll be able to have a conversation about what sort of content your kid should be putting out into the world, and who might be able to see it.