Social Media and Online Safety for Teens

In today’s digital era, social media has become an integral part of our lives, enabling us to connect, engage, and express ourselves like never before. However, as we revel in the benefits of this technological marvel, we should also pause to consider the safety challenges it presents, particularly for specific demographics such as the blind or low-vision youth. While technology and social media platforms are ever-changing, it is important to know the newest information to help your child navigate and safely be online.  

Accessibility and Safety in Social Media 

While platforms have made strides in accessibility, blind and low-vision youth need to access these spaces and feel safe and secure doing so. A significant part of this is understanding the platform’s features, the potential risks, and how to mitigate them. Consider using audio descriptions or closed captioning to add accessibility features to posts. When using hashtags, capitalize each word to help when a screen reader reads them. Social Media platforms continue to strive for their platforms to be more accessible. Still, as you or your child make posts/content, you can add simple features to help ensure accessibility for others.  

Platform Safety Features 

Most social media platforms have robust safety features that users can utilize to protect their privacy and security. These include settings to make accounts private, options to control who can send direct messages or comments, and tools to report or block abusive or suspicious accounts. Using these features typically found on a parent information or settings page can significantly enhance the safety of blind and low-vision youth. 

However, these settings are not always readily accessible for users who are blind or low vision. Therefore, it’s essential to advocate for more comprehensive and intuitive accessibility settings on these platforms, ensuring every user has an equal opportunity for a safe social media experience. 

Preventing Cyberbullying 

Unfortunately, the anonymity provided by the internet can sometimes breed malicious behavior. For blind and low-vision youth who might not be able to detect or respond to visual cues associated with cyberbullying quickly, the risk could be even higher. To combat this, parents, educators, and peers must work together to create a supportive network for these young people. 

Education around digital etiquette and respectful communication is a vital starting point. We need to teach young people about the potential harms of cyberbullying, encourage them to report any incidents, and provide tools to help them navigate these situations safely.  

Safeguarding Personal Information 

Social media users, particularly young people, can unknowingly share personal information that ill-intentioned individuals can exploit. For blind and low vision youth, text-to-speech tools can help review posts and ensure they don’t accidentally include sensitive information. 

Additionally, it’s essential to understand the implications of location-sharing features common on many social media platforms. While useful in some contexts, these features could also pose potential safety risks, particularly for vulnerable users. 

Interacting with Strangers 

A significant part of the social media experience involves interacting with people outside one’s immediate social circle. While this opens exciting opportunities for connection and learning, it can pose potential safety risks. Blind and low-vision youth, like all young people, need to be taught the importance of maintaining boundaries when interacting with strangers online and the possible red flags to watch out for.  

Learning about parental safeguards and ways to keep accounts private will help limit the interaction with strangers online. There are parental monitoring apps such as Bark or Family Keeper that can help manage online safety. It can be tricky as you and your child navigate a new independence space. Safe boundaries and expectations can help keep your child safe online.  

Screen Time and Mental Health 

Excessive screen time, the potential for unhealthy comparisons, and negative self-esteem linked to social media usage are concerns for all youth. For blind and low-vision youth, who may rely heavily on technology for many aspects of their lives, balancing time spent online with other activities is essential. Providing opportunities for physical activities, offline hobbies, and face-to-face socializing can help maintain a healthy equilibrium. 

Tips from the FBI and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) 

The FBI, in partnership with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), is issuing a national public safety alert regarding an explosion in incidents of children and teens coerced into sending explicit images online and extorted for money—a crime known as financial sextortion. 

Financial sextortion schemes occur in online environments where young people feel most comfortable—using common social media sites, gaming sites, or video chat applications that feel familiar and safe. On these platforms, online predators often use fake female accounts and target minor males between 14 and 17 years old, but the FBI has interviewed victims as young as ten years old. 

What if you or your child is a victim? 

If young people are exploited, they are victims of a crime and should report it. Contact your local FBI field office, call 1-800-CALL-FBI, or report it online at The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has outlined steps young people and their parents can take if they are a victim of sextortion, including:  

  • Remember, the predator is to blame, not your child or you.  
  • Get help before deciding whether to pay money or otherwise comply with the predator.  
  • Cooperating or paying rarely stops the blackmail and continued harassment.  
  • Report the predator’s account via the platform’s safety feature.  
  • Block the predator and do not delete the profile or messages because that can be helpful to law enforcement in identifying and stopping them.  
  • Let NCMEC help get explicit images of you off the internet.  
  • Visit to learn how to get your exploitive photos taken down, or visit to receive help reporting.  
  • Ask for help. This can be a very complex problem and may require help from adults or law enforcement.  
  • If you don’t feel you have adults in your corner, you can contact NCMEC for support at [email protected] or call NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST.  
  • Take a moment to learn how sextortion works and how to talk to your children about it. Information, resources, and conversation guides are available at Sextortion: What Kids and Caregivers Need to Know — FBI.  
  • Visit FBI Safety – Resources to find the most up-to-date information, hear from professionals in the field, learn what you can do to keep your child safe, and watch related videos.  

Conclusion: Checking in with Your Child 

Setting up time to check in with your child about their social media and online engagement can help keep lines of communication open. Communicating with your child early and helping them navigate safely and responsibly may allow them to enjoy the online space, leading to new passions or opportunities. Discussing time spent online, blocking people and negative comments, and reflecting on their mental health will also be key to healthy social media use.   

Ensuring the safety of blind and low-vision youth on social media is a shared responsibility. While platforms must continue to improve their accessibility and safety features, parents, educators, and society need to equip these young people with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate social media safely. As we evolve in the digital era, we must ensure that everyone can participate and express themselves in these spaces without fear and with the utmost confidence in their safety.