Ask Laura: How do kids hide online?

Editor‘s note: In this monthly series, social media expert and Durham mom Laura Tierney, founder of , answers your questions about social media and kids. If you have a question for Laura, email her at .


I’ve heard that kids hide from their parents online, but I don’t really understand how they do it (besides setting up accounts with new email addresses). Can you explain ways they do this? And what can I do about it?


Students are far savvier on social media than adults often give them credit for. And they use multiple tools to bypass what they know their parents may have access to. Here are just three common examples:

Decoy apps

Apps like Calculator% or Audio Manager are not what they seem; you can’t calculate or control volume on either. But after entering a PIN, you can hide photos and videos, make secret calls, and covertly message people.


Fake Instagram accounts are so popular that even middle schoolers call their real Instagram accounts Rinstas. Their has a different username and bio than their real account, and it’s kept private so that they must approve those who want to follow the account. The audience is intentionally exclusive, and the content could be anything from super silly stuff to downright offensive stuff. Some teens have multiple finstas.

Facebook Messenger Secret Conversations

Though these encrypted and optionally disappearing messages are easy to send, they’re impossible to find once sent unless you know who the conversation was with. Want to get rid of the evidence? You can delete all of your Secret Conversations in Facebook Messenger at once, but those you’ve conversed with will retain a copy until they choose to delete it. Here‘s how secret these conversations are: Even Facebook can‘t see them.

This list may not surprise you. Students will (nearly) always be a step ahead of adults on social media. That’s why, in this age of likes, Snap Streaks, and , it’s more important than ever to build trust, huddle, and empower. Here’s how.

Monitor social media rookies

Before your child gets their own cell phone or social media account, let them know it’s fair game for you to read their texts and social media posts. If you choose a tool like , , or to keep tabs on their online activity, be upfront about it. Use this choice as an opportunity to huddle with your child — talk about why you are doing it. A great example of a conversation looks like .

But no matter how long your child has been using social, we strongly recommend huddling over helicoptering. Tell them you‘re going to hold them to , and encourage them to hold you accountable as well.

Huddle with all kids, rookies to pros

When you proactively talk with your child one-on-one about social media, you build trust and prepare them to make the most thoughtful, real-time decisions. These conversations can be short or long. They can happen in the car on the way to practice, while making dinner, in passing in the upstairs hallway. And they can be about their social media experiences or yours.

The goal is to make it natural and easy, without mom or dad overreacting, to talk about what happens online.

Huddle topic suggestions

Kids learn from watching their parents, so talk about your own social media experiences when huddling. This is one way to build trust. When it comes to getting kids to talk about their own social media experiences, we suggest using “what if” coaching: “Maria, what if this were to happen to you? What would be your next move?” Focus on what you or your child should DO in a certain instance, not what should be avoided. The don’ts aren’t nearly as helpful as the do’s.

Your social media experiences

Tell your child about a post you recently put up and the comments and likes it got. Reinforce that neither alters what you choose to share. What matters is that you reflect your character and values in whatever you choose to post.

You could scroll through your Instagram or Twitter feed with your child, talking about what you see and who you follow. Be a role model and show them what a strong, supportive “team” of followers looks like.

And involve them when posting about them. and, if they approve your post, show them the reaction it got. It’s their story you’re telling, after all.

Their social media experiences

Students at a Wake County private school recently experienced an sending students inappropriate content. It’s the perfect time to huddle. Ask, “What would you do if you received a direct message from a stranger on Instagram with an inappropriate photo? What do you think your best move would be?”

Use huddling to talk about positive ways to use social media, too: If your child complains about the school’s dress code policy, ask how they might use a text campaign to rally student to suggest a school-wide policy change. Start a hashtag on Instagram with photos of new dress code outfits. Open and share a Google Doc with suggestions to the administration.

The point is to show your child the positive possibilities of social media and to equip them to handle the negative situations.

Empower your child on social media

In , you‘ll find over 20 conversation starters with important talking points to make Huddling easier. Like, what to do when a stranger joins a group text, friends have different tech rules at their house, or a crush asks for nude photos.

Also, huddling can happen parent-to-parent, too — it‘s easier to win when you play as a team. Join to huddle with other parents who want to empower their kids to use social media positively, too!

Whatever you do, do more than use monitoring tools. Kids will always be a step ahead, and with each step, they can navigate social media positively.

Laura Tierney is founder and president of , a Durham-based company that teaches students nationwide positive ways to handle one of the biggest drivers of their social development: social media.