How do we maintain boundaries with young people on social media? 

Boundaries between your personal and professional activities are as important online as they are working face to face.” - BACP, 2019 

Several members have told us that their use of social media has increased during lockdown. It’s become a key tool for maintaining contact with young people, sharing updates about services and self-care tips, offering live and pre-recorded activities and much more besides. A colleague from one YIACS pointed out that while the public narrative around social media and mental health has historically been negative, the use of these platforms during lockdown will start to shift that and people will feel better about using it to work with young people.  

There are some simple steps you can take to make sure any activity on social media remains within professional boundaries: 

  • As with all communication with young people, only use organisational logins and contact details and avoid handing out any personal details. The NSPCC advise the use of devices provided by your organisation, where possible.
  • Do not allow young people to view your personal social media accounts and take the necessary steps to keep them private. Professional accounts are exempt from this, although they should not be used to form personal relationships with young people.
  • It goes without saying that when using social media in your personal life, it is good practice to keep in mind your work with young people, and not use these sites in a way that would compromise you or your profession.
  • Make sure you know how the different social media platforms you’re using work and check their age limits. Facebook, for example, has a minimum age of 13 for users – so make sure you’re never communicating with young people who are younger than this. You can find out more at NetAware.
  • Think carefully about how you will deal with ‘friend’ requests on social media. It’s best practice to be clear about this from the beginning.
  • Direct any questions and communications to professional sites.
  • Bear in mind that confidentiality and privacy are not guaranteed on social media sites, and that even deleted material is not fully removed/leaves a digital footprint. 
  • Again, avoid therapeutic conversations on social media. 

A few words on live streaming

Livestreaming is a valuable online tool, however it’s crucial you remain aware of the risks to children and young people’s safety. If this is a tool you’d like to use, the NSPCC advises you to do the following: 

  • Use an open, appropriate area to film in, and if your session is being attended by children make sure it’s being observed by appropriate adults. 
  • Speak to young people in advice of the session about their online safety:
    • Make sure they understand it’s live, that any comments they make will be seen by others and probably won’t be able to be deleted or edited once they’ve been posted.
    • Remind them not to share any personal information or respond to contact requests from people they don’t know.
    • Some live streams request donations from viewers – explain to young people that they don’t have to do this.
    • Make sure they know who to go to if they see or hear anything upsetting or inappropriate during the session. 
  • As always, it’s important that you understand the privacy settings on the platform you’re using and know how to report offensive or abusive content. 
  • Choose a platform that is accessible – for example, can use screen readers or subtitles. 
  • Never reveal the full identity of individual participants. 
  • Be sensitive to the needs of the young people participation, for example those who may be affected by particular subjects or those you know have child protection concerns.
  • You should also consider:
    • Does the platform you’re using allow you to restrict the audience, for example by asking them to create a login and password? Some free platforms, including Facebook and YouTube, don’t allow you to do this.
    • Will others be able to save and distribute your stream?
    • Do you have children and young people’s consent to participate? 

And if you’re participating in someone else’s live stream:

  • Make sure you’re aware what content will be used in the stream and check whether it’s appropriate for the children and young people watching. 
  • Find out how the stream will be used in future – for example, will it be saved? Will it be rebroadcasted? 

It takes considerable professional vigilance, both individually and as a profession, to keep up to date in order to ensure that the benefits [of using technology] outweigh the risks. BACP, 2019

Next section: How can we look after ourselves?