Does social media expose your child to danger?

Possibly, but I believe the risks can be reduced, as long as we’re prepared to be curious about how the younger gen consumes digital media, and understand how they are using social platforms so we can make sure they’re doing so safely and age-appropriately.

At the end of summer term, my school held a disco to celebrate year six students finishing primary school. To capture this momentous occasion, students were allowed to bring in smart phones/mobile devices (normally banned during school hours).

They embraced this freedom with vigorous enthusiasm. My colleagues and I watched in amazement as the serious selfie-obsession (video and photos) unfolded before our eyes. Sadly, some students preferred to play on their devices, engrossed in games (missing the significance of the event) and chatting with friends online, who were at the disco! We also witnessed some students vent frustration and anger at not being able to upload their images. They were missing out on ‘likes’, you see; the more ‘likes’ achieved, the more popular they perceive themselves to be. Not a totally healthy reflection of real life – thanks Kim K and co.!

Did you know, the most frequent activity amongst children today is engaging in social media? Any site which allows your child to interact socially, such as Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, Snapchat, Twitter, Youtube and gaming portals are all classed as social media.

I’ll be honest, I love social media and technology. This digital revolution means we benefit from a fantastic flow of information, learning and open communication. But, ‘with great power, comes great responsibility,’ and this applies to adults (parents, teachers, carers) and children, who of course due to age, are more vulnerable to peer pressure and dangers of digital as they experiment in this space.

It’s no great secret that the digital age has a dark side, and there can be collateral damage associated with it. There are many dangers kids will encounter on their journey through adolescence, including as they navigate social media and its boundaries. Remember, this is NOT about your child being naive, immature, untrustworthy or naughty – kids are kids, and there’s only so much they can be expected to navigate safely on their own.

What are the dangers?

  • cyber bullying,
  • sexual predators,
  • criminals,
  • sharing or consumption of inappropriate photos and video
  • sharing too much information which can lead to anything from your home being burgled, to a young person sharing photos-not-set-for-public-consumption, tagged with your precise physical location!

As a parent (and teacher, for that matter), if you lack a basic understanding of social media, and find it difficult to communicate with digitally-confident children, you are manifesting a disconnect between you and the youngster in your care.

Here are ways to help you navigate this new socialisation and to bridge that technical gap.

Social media and teens – helpful rules

  1. Talk to your child about specific issues they may be dealing with, or what other children may be encountering online.
  2. Become curious and better educated about the many technologies children and teenagers are using. There are plenty of ways you can learn more – local courses, YouTube tutorials, personal coaches or simply ask questions on areas that are new to you.
  3. Instigate family discussions concerning online topics; check privacy settings (including location settings on mobile devices), and keep an eye on online profiles for inappropriate posts. On the point of security, if you’re worried, seek advice and assistance from your local mobile phone store, an IT or digital media consultant, or speak to your mobile / broadband provider.
  4. Discuss the importance of your supervising online activities, through active participation and communication. If the child in your care is out with friends or socialising and playing somewhere in the ‘real world’, I’d expect you would know where they are, who they are with and that they’re being effectively supervised. The same rules apply to online activity. You should be aware of ‘where’ online they are hanging out, and who it is they’re liaising with. Wonder how kids can get into trouble? Press play on the video linked above – you’ll realise why it’s important to take control.
  5. Keep all devices in a public area in the home such as places you can monitor as you’re cooking or wandering through a room e.g. lounge, kitchen, dining. I’d also urge you to seriously consider why any child needs to take a mobile device to bed… (actually, we adults shouldn’t either – it’s a dreadful habit – put them away at night!).
  6. Have a strategy in place for if/when your child may be exposed to inappropriate content.
  7. Set aside quality time with your child doing things they are interested in, and vary activities across digital and real-life platforms.
  8. All adults lead busy hectic lives, but it’s our responsibility to make time, be informed and implement safety strategies for online activity, just as we do for anything our kids are involved with.

Child psychologist, Dr Richard Woolfson believes, “Parents need to maintain an open dialogue and encourage children to share both good and bad online experiences, and make sure they keep up with the latest social media crazes, and work with their children rather than trying to control them.”

The world is a different place to when we were children, and things are vastly changed compared with even as recently as ten years ago. As a parent or carer, it’s critically important to remain aware and prepared for how this type of communication and technology truly impacts and works in kids’ lives and in the home. Develop rules that fit best in your household – just because another family does it one way, if a certain rule or process doesn’t sit right with you, use your discretion. Above all, seek information and educate yourself – it’s not good enough to claim that new technology ‘aint your thing! But who knows, by learning something more, you might end up enjoying this new frontier as much as the kids do.

-By Cooper Dawson

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About the author: Cooper Dawson

Teacher and digital media producer – find me on social media @cooperdawson1 PS - if you found this piece helpful, I would be really grateful if you could take a moment to leave a comment below.

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