Strategies for Protecting Children from Social Media Exploitation

Strategies for Protecting Children from Social Media Exploitation

Social media offers a vibrant and engaging avenue for children to forge friendships and discover new knowledge. It can act as a supportive haven for teenagers, providing a sense of validation and belonging. By connecting with peers who are navigating similar challenges, social media can significantly reduce feelings of isolation among youth.

Additionally, it serves as a sanctuary where support groups on critical issues like bullying, depression, and abuse are easily accessible, while simultaneously enabling teenagers to showcase their creativity and talents.

However, the very strengths that social media offers to children, teens and groups, can also be used to exploit them.

A need for acceptance and inclusion can be used to manipulate or coerce a person to do something simply to please someone else.

The need to alleviate feelings of loneliness can lead a child to divulge personal information, especially if the other person shares a personal story about their loneliness.

Unfortunately, a new friend connection could be a scammer or predator. Or, they may be pretending to be a legitimate friend.  This is the essence of what exploitation is. It’s the preying on vulnerable emotions and fears to get something from the someone else.

Understanding the Risks

Before delving into protective measures, it’s important to understand the various ways in which children can be exploited on social media platforms.


Children may encounter harassment, intimidation, or humiliation from peers, causing profound emotional distress and psychological harm. This can occur through texts, social media, and online games. The anonymity of the internet often emboldens bullies,

Predatory Behavior:

Online predators often disguise their identities to manipulate children into engaging in inappropriate or harmful activities, posing a significant threat to their safety.  If the predator lives in the area, it can lead to a personal encounter.

Exposure to Inappropriate Content:

The unrestricted nature of social media exposes children to explicit material, including violence, pornography, and hate speech, which can adversely impact their development and worldview. This can lead a child to also share personal photos of themselves.

Infringement of Privacy:

Parents should not assume that strict privacy settings are enough.  Children, not fully understanding the importance of personal privacy, may share too much online. This oversharing can lead to identity theft, stalking or being targeted by manipulative ads.

Social Media Exploitation Methods

We’ve been focusing on social media as one of the platforms where perpetrators seek out their victims, but methods of exploration go beyond your child’s favorite app.  Social engineering is the term used for any type of manipulation, online or off, using social media or another means.

Predatory Behavior and Social Engineering

Predators on the internet often employ social engineering tactics on social media such as:

  • Phishing: Using deceptive messages to trick children into providing personal information or downloading malicious software. These messages often appear to be from trusted sources, making it difficult for young users to recognize the danger.
  • Pretexting: Creating a fabricated scenario or identity to gain a child’s trust. For example, an attacker might pose as a school official or new friend to solicit personal details or sensitive information.
  • Baiting: Offering something enticing – like a free download or access to exclusive content – that leads to harmful sites or prompts children to share private data.

These methods are closely linked to other predatory behaviors where adults or older children manipulate vulnerable kids into unsafe situations. This manipulation often involves coaxing them to share personal information or engage in inappropriate activities, exploiting their trust and vulnerability.

Other methods used beyond social media include:

  • Quid pro quo: Similar to baiting, it is the exchange of information between two people.  “I’ll tell you a secret and me and then you tell me one”.
  • Impersonation: Pretending to be someone else, either in person, over the phone, or online, to gain trust and extract information or access.
  • Reverse social engineering: Manipulating a target into contacting the social engineer first, often by planting false information online or creating a situation where the target feels compelled to reach out.
  • Shoulder surfing: Observing someone as they enter passwords or PINs on their devices or at ATMs, allowing the attacker to gain unauthorized access.

These methods can be used individually or in combination to exploit human psychology and trust in order to achieve the social engineer’s objectives.

Tips for Protecting Children Online

Parents play a crucial role in educating their children about the potential dangers of social media. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, there are several standards that can help if followed. Discuss the dangers shared above in this article.  Younger children may be to young for you to go into great detail. In those cases, a parent should fully monitor their activities.  Be aware of their personal connections and monitors their interactions without exception.

As children grow, they will need a safe level of freedom to make independent decisions.  This is were parents need to get into the nitty gritty with their child or teen about what dangers await online.  They need to be aware that not everything may be as it appears.

Whether you’re a child, teen, or adult there is no reason for anyone to share personally compromising information online to a close friend.  Those conversations should be held exclusively offline face to face.  Not via text or messaging apps.  Even a phone call may be compromised if AI is used to mimic a voice.

Set age-appropriate limits on screen time

Establish clear guidelines for screen time and social media usage based on the child’s age and maturity level. Creating designated tech-free zones and times in the home — such as during family meals or before bedtime — can help as well while also promoting quality time together and reducing reliance on screens.

Monitor Online Activities

Keep track of online activities, including the websites children visit, the apps in use and any interactions with others on social media. Consider utilizing parental control features offered to restrict access to inappropriate content and track online behavior.

Teach Critical Thinking Skills

Help children develop critical thinking skills, especially when it comes to evaluating online content. Teach them to question the credibility of information, recognize fake news and discern between reliable and unreliable sources.

Educate About Privacy Settings

Go over privacy settings on social media platforms as well as how to adjust them to control who can see posts and information. Encourage children to set their profiles to private and only accept friend requests from people they know in real life.

Discuss Online Risks and Consequences

Have age-appropriate conversations about the potential risks of social media – such as cyberbullying, online predators and the permanence of digital footprints. Help children understand the consequences of sharing personal information online.

Model Healthy Online Behavior

Lead by example and demonstrate healthy online behavior. Show children how to use social media responsibly, respectfully interact with others online and prioritize offline activities and face-to-face interactions.

Guide Your Child Through Online Interactions

Navigating the online world can sometimes be tricky for kids, and as parents, it’s our job to be their compass. If you notice your child might be getting a little too adventurous online, perhaps stepping into roles they shouldn’t – such as being overly bossy, rude or even a bully themselves – it’s a great opportunity for a heart-to-heart. Chat about the power of kindness and the impact of actions both online and offline.

If your child has been mistreated online, there are mental health counselors and other professionals trained to handle these types of situations. Remember, help is just a conversation away.

Empowering Safe Digital Exploration

While social media offers many benefits, it’s important to be proactive about safeguarding our children from its potential dangers. By educating ourselves and our kids, setting clear guidelines and staying engaged with their digital lives, we can help them enjoy the benefits of social media without falling prey to its risks. Let’s work together to create a safer digital environment for all our children.

Author Bio:
Carolyn Ball, LCPC, is the founder of Elevate Counseling + Wellness. Her goal is to help people elevate their lives and reach their maximum potential. She has an understanding of the significance of mental health in a person’s overall well-being, and is passionate about assisting others in living their best version of themselves. 

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