How to avoid social-media safety pitfalls

You and your Scouts use social media to connect with friends, share photos, stay in the loop with event schedules and much more. These four scenarios will help you navigate social-media safety concerns as a parent and Scout leader.

SCENARIO: While enjoying a day hike with Cub Scouts, you snap a series of photos of the boys having fun. During the next water break, you share three images on your personal (and public) Instagram account, tagging each image with the park’s location. Back at the parking lot, one mom waiting to pick up her son says she saw the images and is upset with this kind of photo-sharing of her son. What should you do now and in the future?

Outings can be an excellent opportunity to photograph Scouting at its best. But the next time you want to share an image of Scouts — other than your own child — stop and think: Have you asked the kids’ parents if they’re OK with you sharing photos of their children? If the answer is “I’m not sure,” then refrain from posting. Here’s how you should approach this situation based on the BSA Social Media Guidelines:

If you’re sharing photos on one of your personal social media accounts, the polite (although not required) thing to do is casually discuss this ahead of time with the parents in your child’s pack, troop or crew. The act of sharing these photos might violate some parents’ wishes for their children.

“You can gather a lot of information about kids from a single image — their age, where they are, a school T-shirt,” says Ju’Riese Colon, executive director of outreach for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “Especially with younger kids, parents are the ones starting their digital footprints. It’s up to them to use caution when creating their child’s online image.”

When sharing these images with permission, it’s still a good idea to respect the kids’ privacy by taking additional security steps — including not tagging location, not tagging other parents in the image and not using any of the kids’ names in your caption, says Nathan Johnson, national social media manager at the Boy Scouts of America. You can even switch your security settings to “private.”

If parents say they don’t want their kids’ photos shared on your public account, respect their wishes. Instead, share photos of the view along the trail or photos of your own son. And if a fellow parent expresses concern with an image you’ve already shared, volunteer to immediately delete the image.


SCENARIO: After your troop meeting, one Scout pulls you aside with his dad to speak privately about an incident. The Scout says he and several other Scouts were Snapchatting with friends while waiting for the meeting to start. He watched one of the other boys take a screenshot of a photo sent by a mutual friend at school, edit the photo with inappropriate text and then send the image via text to several other friends. The Scout says the friend’s feelings might be hurt if the photo surfaces at school. How should you handle this as a Scoutmaster?

Hopefully, “What’s Snapchat?” isn’t your first question to the Scout. It’s important to stay up to date with the apps your Scouts are using to communicate — and according to research firm Piper Jaffray, Snapchat is the most popular messaging app among teens. (Ask a Scout to fill you in or check out the app for yourself.)

The good thing about this situation is the Scout decided to stand up and say something about inappropriate behavior. Jim Wilson, chairman of the BSA’s National Youth Protection Committee, calls these Scouts “upstanders,” because they’re brave enough to speak up (and not remain a bystander) when witnessing any type of cyberbullying.

“The biggest discrepancy teens have with Snapchat is that they expect all images to disappear — but that’s not always the case,” NCMEC’s Colon says. “More often than not, kids are texting and sharing edited photos because they think it’s funny, not because they want to hurt someone.”

Listen closely to the Scout, ask for the names of everyone involved and try to figure out if the photo was shared beyond text messages. Most important, praise the Scout for speaking up.

Next, call the parents of the other Scouts involved. After you explain the situation, let parents know the troop will be revisiting some internet safety and etiquette tips at your next meeting, and parents are invited to attend. You could also recommend parents read A Parents’ Guide to Snapchat if they are unfamiliar with the app:

If your Scouts have yet to complete the Cyber Chip requirements, now is a great time to get started. This program, created in partnership with NetSmartz — part of NCMEC — tailors internet-safety lessons to each age group from first to 12th grade. Topics include cyberbullying, cellphone use, gaming and others. Learn more at

socialapps2SCENARIO: One of the parents in your son’s Cub Scout den created a private Facebook page to help den leaders and parents plan upcoming activities. Because of the privacy settings, new parents can join only upon invitation. Is there anything wrong with this setup if it helps improve communication?

It’s not ideal, says BSA’s Johnson. The BSA Social Media Guidelines recommend avoiding private or secret Facebook groups.

“These guidelines exist because often, secrecy — or the appearance of secrecy — can be a problem,” Johnson says.

Plus, he says, “The closed or private channels could create a situation where someone could be intentionally and unfairly excluded. While we hope that would never be the case for anyone, we are aware of some stories where that type of behavior has occurred.”

If you must use Facebook and your unit decides a private/closed channel is the way to go, you should indicate it’s not an official BSA channel and is intended for parents only. The recommendation is that no youth be included on a private/closed channel.

A better alternative? Scoutbook, Johnson says. The web app offers a formal planning and communication tool, electronic two-deep leadership communication capabilities and much more. Check it out at

socialapps4SCENARIO: Your teen is constantly on her smartphone and seems protective of what she’s doing and with whom she’s communicating. If you ask her about it, she acts annoyed and doesn’t want to share details. You do periodic checks to make sure she’s using her phone responsibly, but now you’re wondering if these checks are thorough enough. How can you respect her privacy while making sure she’s meeting your agreed-upon expectations?

Working with your teen to balance independence with parental oversight when it comes to smartphone use is a modern parenting challenge. “Kids are really smart,” Colon says. “Even without smartphones, we (as teens) tried to hide things from our parents.”

Now teens are using vault apps (or hidden apps) to camouflage parent-disapproved content on their phones. These apps can appear as a calculator app or something else unsuspecting and unlock hundreds of images or messages with a password.

A 2016 Pew Research Center report revealed most parents personally monitor their teen’s web history or social media profiles, but fewer use parental controls or tracking tools.

The kind of independence and parental control you agree upon with your child “really comes down to parenting and the expectations you establish together,” Colon says. The lessons Scouts and Venturers learn in the Cyber Chip program help establish a dialogue between teens and parents to create reasonable rules together.

If these rules are being broken, it’s time to revisit them with your teen and discuss consequences you agreed upon when constructing your family’s expectations for internet use.

Colon advises parents to “make phone use a part of your daily conversation. For instance, ask her what photos she took today. What did she post on Instagram? What kind of messages did her friends share on Snapchat?

“That way, they expect you to ask about it. It’s very easy to forget about it until something goes wrong. Be involved when nothing’s wrong.”


  1. Wonderful article. Thanks for sharing on your blog.

    As a parent, we want our kids to be on their best behavior. At an early age, we teach them the value of respecting other people’s views, beliefs, and privacy. However, the challenge of every parent today is discussing with their children about their online behavior. Sometimes, parents feel that they’re not tech-savvy enough to teach their kids about digital literacy. This may lead to children making unethical choices online.

    Our online behavior often reflects how we behave in the real world. Training your kids about social media etiquette is an ongoing process. It’s important for parents to teach their children the value of good social media etiquette. However, kids today are isolated from socializing with their parents.

    We have tips and infographics as well on how we can teach our kids the value of Good Online Behavior and the importance of social media etiquette. You may visit, to read more.

  2. In regards to the closed group on Facebook, our unit has a closed group with secure privacy settings to allow parents and leaders to share pics, info, docs and announcements. All parents and youth for those in BSA Troop have access and are added to group upon joining. For those that are not on FB we communicate in other venues as well. This was done by request of committee and parents years ago for those that want to see pics but not on public page for various reasons. It’s not a secret group because all members are invited but it keeps other unknown people and trolls from getting info or access.

  3. While I’m not a fan of a unit social media page, the units I work with do them. Thankfully, adults are the Admins of the pages, and they are Private, to respect peoples privacy, as well as to keep trolls out.

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