Updated: Sep 16, 2020
This is a popular topic of debate for many modern parents and there are many hazards as well as benefits that come with using social media. Quite often my wife and I will discuss what social media the boys should be using and the restrictions we need to set for each of them and in some cases, ban certain social media altogether. According to Ofcom, although 13 years is the minimum age for most of the social media sites, roughly 12% of nine-year-olds have a social media profile and by the age of 10, 21% have a profile and 34% do by age 11.
Children often want to spend time with their friends. When they can't, many of them want to turn to social media. It can be a fantastic tool for keeping in touch, but not all platforms are appropriate for children. Sometimes we need to take a step back and remove them from exposure to things they should not see and hear. Many platforms have minimum ages, but not all do. It is essential that parents monitor their children's online activities, even if they do not like it.
Children do not always see danger where adults do. This is why a child will want to jump off the highest point on playground equipment, but we know that if they land wrong, they could be injured. The same is true online. Children do not see dangers in other people, especially if they appear to be children also and they certainly do not always expect people to pretend to be children. For this reason, anytime a child is on social media, it needs to be monitored and aimed at children. While being aimed at children will not solve all of the problems, it can help cut down on the risks. Below are a few of the risks involved.
"Quite often, kids may not understand that these predatory adults exist and that they could be approached under false pretences."
Exposure to Bullies
Bullies come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. Children and adults can be bullies. Some adults on social media do not care if they are speaking to children, and they will threaten, bully, and misbehave toward children. Other times, this poor behaviour is carried out by other children. While you may monitor your child’s accounts, it is nearly impossible to prevent bullying.
Exposure to Violent or Inappropriate Images
Children may see violent images on TV or movies, but sometimes social media can have images you are not ready for them to see. Nudity is generally banned on social media, but that does not mean that you cannot come across an inappropriate image now and then. With social media, images are a bit harder to control.
Sharing Personal Information
Children are more trusting than adults and do not always realise when they have shared inappropriate information. They do not understand that a photo of their school with their last name might help a possible predator to locate them. Sharing check-ins, team names, and holiday plans can also be dangerous online. Adults can be more discerning than children.
Exposure to Predators
Unfortunately, not everyone is honest and trustworthy. Children often do not know how to spot a predator. These adults in chat rooms may seem interested in the same things that they are and might be grooming the child. Quite often, kids may not understand that these predatory adults exist and that they could be approached under false pretences.
"It's a great way to maintain those meaningful connections with the ones they are closest to."
Just because social media can be dangerous does not mean that it cannot also be beneficial. Children can reap many rewards from interacting on social media. While supervision is required, you can help your child have a pleasant online experience.
Sometimes friends and family are far away. Social media can help children to connect to people they are missing in their daily lives. Social media often has instant messaging applications attached. Your child can send messages or pictures to friends & relatives while on holiday. It's a great way to maintain those meaningful connections with the ones they are closest to.
This benefit is not always present, but children can contact friends and classmates for help with their work. They can also work collaboratively more easily than they could before some of the apps and networks were invented.
Share and Increase Creativity
Children can also share and increase creativity through social media. Photos, music, and other art can be shared through Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and school apps. Students can also become more creative by exploring what others are doing. This might connect them with people across the globe with the same interests.
Children learn more about cultures and people from across the world. People living in Wales can contact someone in Laos if they are both interested in playing the violin. Not every connection will speak the same language, but sometimes apps will even allow users to type in their native language and translate it for readers.
Globalisation and decreased loneliness will often lead to empathy for others. Children will be able to dispel stereotypes and prejudices by contacting people living in different cultures, celebrating unfamiliar religions, and eating different native foods. They will learn that all cultures have value and are worth celebrating.
The bottom line is this - no matter what you choose for letting your child participate online, you must understand that sometimes the risks outweigh the benefits, and other times, the benefits are better. Having an open dialogue with your children about their activities and monitoring them for safe behaviours online can help them more than anything. Children over 13 can often sign up for social media without parental consent, but that does not mean that they need to do so. Make sure that your children, over or under 13, know your expectations and rules. Ensure that they follow those rules to stay safe. Good luck!
What are your thoughts when it comes to social media and children?