Even though social media is an amazing tool that can be used to learn, create and connect, the online world can be challenging. For the majority of kids and teenagers, social media is a central part of their everyday lives. Even though there are plenty of good things that come with using social platforms, there are also many risks involved including cyberbullying and oversharing to name a few. With 90% of teens using social media daily, it’s important for parents to know as much as possible about it and be able to teach your children how to use it in a safe and smart way.
What is Social Media?
Social media refers to websites and apps that allow people to interact with others, or create and share content. They have quickly become a huge favourite for young people as they allow them to stay in touch with friends easily, meet new people with similar interests and share their own photos and videos. Popular social media platforms that most kids and teens use include Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok.
What's Good About Social Media?
Social media can be used in lots of positive ways. Not only can the platforms help kids stay connected with their friends and family, it can also encourage creativity and self-expression through sharing ideas, music, videos and photographs. It also means they have plenty of opportunities to meet and interact with peers that may share similar interests. For example: a science club at school might have a Facebook Group specifically for members to share ideas, or if your child is interested in horse riding, there may be a community page for young riders. Other benefits include:
- An increased connection and better understanding of the world.
- The ability to develop their communication and technical skills.
- It can be a place where kids and teens can seek support or help.
- Gives the ability to campaign for social good or have a positive social media footprint.
For more information on the benefits of social media, this website has some excellent information.
What Are The Dangers?
At the same time social media can be a hub for cyberbullying, personal information being exposed, kids unknowingly talking to strangers or being exposed to age inappropriate content. Here’s just a few statistics to illustrate this:
- 1 in 4 young people in the UK have seen something upsetting on social networking sites and 58% of those teens have also been upset by someone they knew online.
- 7 out of 10 teens post their school, town and where they live online.
- 17% of teens say they've been contacted online by someone they didn't know that made them feel scared or uncomfortable.
- 30% of teens say they've seen content online that was inappropriate.
Being Aware of Cyberbullying
It’s extremely important for parents to be aware of cyberbullying as it’s one of the most common things that happens to young people on social media. Try to encourage your kids to talk to you about anything bad or upsetting that happens to them on social media, even if it seems small and insignificant. If your child is receiving nasty messages, or people are posting unwanted things about them they should do something about it. Make sure they know how to block and report the people involved, and use the privacy settings to limit what people can see on their profiles.
Other dangers include kids and teens becoming obsessed with social media in a negative way. Social platforms often include ‘edited’ selfies and posts showing the best parts of a person’s life, which can set very unrealistic expectations. It’s easy to get caught up in this ‘online reality’ and start comparing themselves and their own lives to a peer or celebrity who is posting idealistic content. This can result in them feeling as though they don’t measure up and in extreme cases can cause depression, anxiety or eating disorders.
Putting Privacy First
For more detailed information about some of the concerns that come alongside social media, check out this website.
Teaching Your Kids To Be Safe Online
It’s important for you to discuss social media with your kids - teaching them how to stay safe, smart and reminding them about life offline. Here’s some points to cover.
Watch What They Share. Make sure your kids know to avoid posting about their current location or where they might be going later. Discuss what’s okay and safe to post, and what isn’t. Remind them that online posts stay online forever. The bottom line: keep personal information private.
Report Inappropriate Posts. If they see or experience something they don’t like or find upsetting, they should know how to report it or immediately tell someone they trust.
People Aren’t Always Who They Say They Are. Discuss how it isn’t easy to identify someone online and that sometimes people aren’t always who they say they are. They should never arrange meetings in person with someone they haven’t met before.
Don’t Believe Everything Online. It’s so easy to forget about the real world when using social media, so it’s vital you remind your kids that everything they see online isn’t necessarily real or the whole story. Pictures can be edited, people aren’t always truthful and the majority of social media users only post the ‘best’ parts of their lives.
Limit Social Media. Encourage your kids to spend a limited time on social media per day and teach them the value of ‘unplugging.’ We understand they want to socialise with friends, but it’s important they take part in activities away from the screen such as reading, playing outside or doing their homework!
Be Friendly. Mean behaviour is unacceptable in the virtual world, just as it is in the real world. Make it clear to your kids they should treat others online as they would like to be treated. Being respectful and friendly is key.
Things Parents Can Do
Keep Technology in Common Areas. When possible, keep tablets and computers in common areas where you can keep an eye on your kids while they use them.
Get Online Family Protection. Programs that provide parental controls can block websites, enforce time limits, monitor the websites your child visits, and their online conversations.
Keep Communication Open. It’s important for your kids to know they have someone to talk to. We recommend having regular chats about their life online to give them the opportunity to share with you and for you to ask questions.
Here’s a great website with tools and resources that parents can use to help keep kids safe on social media.