I was recently asked to deliver a social media-based enrichment talk to a group of Sixth Form students at a local all-girls’ school. During my research and preparation, some of the things I discovered led to me questioning the values of social media, and whether there should be age limits imposed on children having a social media presence. If you have teenage children, I would urge you to read on and ask yourself – just how safe are your children online?
Is your teen constantly glued to their computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone? In a recent poll, 71% of respondents in the 13 – 17 year old age range admitted to being regular users of Facebook. But what are the effects of long-term social media usage and how can you, as a parent, combat them?
Where & When?
Admittedly, with mobile devices readily available, controlling the amount of time your teen spends online can be an uphill battle to overcome. If they have a computer in their bedroom, chances are they’re spending more time than you think on social media. In my research I came across some parents who insist on imposing time limits on their teen when it comes to social internet usage, simple house rules such as no internet after 7pm and even in some cases, removing the chargers or insisting that mobile phones be kept downstairs overnight to avoid late night social media stints.
What’s the harm in a selfie?
Have you seen your child’s profile picture? I was horrified when I came across the profile images being used by some 13 year old girls on their Facebook profiles. The selfie craze has really taken hold and the evidence is rife when it comes to social media. Innocence is almost lost, as young teenagers pout, Lolita-like at the camera, some wearing outfits which may be hip on the high street but in a badly taken selfie, could potentially attract attention from the wrong type of social media user.
Selfies can also lead to a negative body image among teenage girls. A recent article in a national newspaper cited that some girls take as many as 100 selfies a day in the belief that they look prettier in selfies than they do in real life. Photos are then posted to social media sites and the wait for the Likes to appear begins. Did you know that there’s a “club” among teen social media users for posts and pictures that receive over 100 Likes? Yes, entry into the “100 Club” is quite an honour to a 14 year old.
When a new social media profile is created, the majority of the default security and privacy settings are set to “Public” – meaning anyone, anywhere, can see what a person is posting. Think back to those inappropriate selfies, add in any location details, age, school …… in fact, anything that your teen has added to their social profile and you’ve got a potential situation just waiting to happen. Changing privacy settings quite literally takes a minute to do. Please, please check your teen’s settings and make sure they’re set to “Friends Only”.
It’s a numbers game!
As with the “100 Club” and gaining Likes, many teens perceive the amount of friends they have as an indicator as to their popularity, accepting Friend Requests without necessarily knowing who the person is they are connecting with. When I was growing up, my parents’ fear was that I may “go off” with a stranger. In the social media age, a child doesn’t even have to leave the house to connect with a stranger. Be aware of stranger danger at all times – it happens online as well as on the streets.
Befriend them …..
How many of you are Friends on social media with your teenage children? If necessary, lay down some ground rules (on both sides!) so that you can keep a discreet watch over what they’re getting up to in their online world. Be mindful of their privacy and don’t go tagging them in baby pictures every other day – trust me, they won’t thank you for it! Explain the dangers of social media and that you just want to make sure they’re acting sensibly. Some parents told me that their teens don’t want to be Friends with them so the parents have insisted on having the log-on details to the child’s social media accounts – purely so that they can log in periodically and make sure all is OK. You will need to build trust with your teen but you will get there in the end.
“It’s only banter”
Unfortunately, cyber bullying is rife among teens on social media. What may begin as “a bit of banter” can soon descend into nastiness – all very publically on a social media profile. Others may join in, taking sides, alliances form and the “banter” is soon forgotten, replaced by bad feeling and upset. Yes, your child can block the perpetrators but be mindful that it has been known for bullies to create a second account under an assumed name, submit a Friend Request and yes, you guessed it – they’re back on the case of your teenager (remember, the more Friends you have, the more popular you are, right?)
Social media can be a marvellous tool – I have family and friends all over the place and Facebook plays an integral part in keeping us all up to date with each other on a regular basis. However, as with all things, social media can be used for the wrong purposes – usually through inexperience and naivety. If any of the above strikes a chord with you where you teenager is concerned, talk to them, explain your concerns and offer assistance.
Thanks for reading! Please feel free to add any comments below.