Do you use social media? Over 70% of people in the UK should say, “Yes, they do.” As social media has rapidly expanded across the world in the digital age, its popularity is reaching out to children.
87% of children aged 12-15 in the UK own a social media account. Although almost all social media limit access from children under 13, 78% of them have joined. Why is social media so attractive to children? What kind of risk do they face? And, how can we help children build a proper relationship with social media?
The positive side of social media for children
Social media can make children happy and is something fun for them. Children’s commissioner reported that social media enables children to enjoy:
They can keep in touch with someone at a distance, for example, families who work or study abroad and primary school friends who go to different secondary schools. As children get older, they build a relationship with online friends and get emotional support from sharing similar experiences like family issues or just talking about hobbies.
Funny videos, posts and games on social media can be fun for children and even help to ease bad moods.
Children are not always being passive to keep just watching content. They actively do something they see on social media, like making slime, taking part in fundraising challenges for charity or cooking sweets. It can also help children find new things on social media that they may want to try.
Social media allows children to express themselves without any control from teachers or parents. They can be a painter, programmer or novelist on social media which again can help them express themselves creatively.
There is also educational content on social media that can help children do homework. Also, children get inspired by social media. If your child wants to be a beautician in the future, Instagram posts by a famous hairdresser are a valuable opportunity to learn about the lifestyle, work, and skills. It can bring aspiration and motivation to them and help them take these aspirations further.
However though, is there any part of technology that has only a good side?
The downside of social media for children
While children are having fun on social media, they are simultaneously facing danger. Social media can potentially expose children to:
Online crime is a massive issue all over the world. Criminals can easily approach children online to exploit anonymity. NSPCC reported that there were more than 9,000 online child sexual offences in 2020 in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Channel Island.
Sadly, someone who attacks children on social media is not limited to offenders.
According to Cybercrew, nearly 20% of children aged 10 – 15 in England and Wales experienced a form of cyberbullying from 2019 to 2020, which is equivalent to 764,00 children.
Poor mental health
Social media can be harmful to children’s mental health. Every single second, numerous pictures pop up in the online field that show someone enjoying parties, buying new clothes or fancying a popular boba tea… This can make children distressed, anxious or envious even though users even by seeing a tiny part of someone else’s daily life. A part of their daily life which may or may not be accurate.
Social media provides not only enjoyable but can also show harmful content. Half of the school-aged children said they have seen sexual, violent and other adult material on social media and games. This can be harmful to children’s development and views of real life.
Intrusion of privacy
Social media is a treasure trove of private information. Children are more exposed to danger due to a lack of digital skills or knowledge of privacy risks. Data brokers, offenders of child abuse and identity theft can target their information like name, address, schools, or locations.
So what can be done to ensure that children are safe online?
How can we ensure the safety of children?
As the danger on social media becomes intense, the government has started to take on board the problems to find solutions. Now, the Online Safety Bill is under discussion. The new law will require social media companies to enforce strict age verification systems and immediately remove harmful and illegal content.
Although the governmental regulation will be effective, the micro-level approach from each family is also necessary. In other words, parents should play an active role to protect children and know what they can do.
Parents should try to be:
You should understand and accept the significance of social media for children. Put in their shoes and consider that for a lot of their lives, they have been surrounded by the internet since birth.
Do you know which social media is safe, or unsafe? Check some social media aiming for the safety of children with strict guidelines. Avoid other social media where children frequently see harmful content.
The one children can talk to
Talk with children about their feeling about online content, ‘likes’, and ‘shares’. Keep being a supportive listener, not a judge. However, you should talk to them to view social media critically – Is the image edited? Does the post describe the normal lifestyle or a special occasion?
Give them compliments for their progress and efforts as well as for the results. This makes children confident without reliance on others’ judgment on social media.
Discuss social media rules with children. Family rules are important to protect children from risks. Let them be a part of the rule-makers. The rule would be more acceptable for children if they could negotiate rather than be forced by their parents.
Once the rules have been set, respect the rules on social media. No one wants to follow a rule breaker. Also, consider your habits and reduce social media use in front of your children.
Parental controls on social media are a practical strategy. 65% of children aged 11-16 welcome parental control on social media and on the internet.
You can limit on phones, tablets, Wi-Fi, game or search engines, and change privacy settings for each social media. NSPCC and Childline are great places to start to find out how to create these settings.
Tips for Children with social media
Other key points can also help children healthily live with social media.
Ofcom said that only 32% of children knew how to report or flag functions, and 14% had ever used them. Children and parents should make sure how to report harmful content. Also, they need to know how to deal with the worst case scenario and if someone shares sexual images or videos of children and how to report and remove them.
Social media is not the only world children can play in. Exercise or hobbies can reduce social media addiction and improve mental health. Childline suggests many ideas can distract from social media – play a board game with someone, name all the blue objects around you, write a letter or try a puzzle. There are thousands of things for children to do which doesn’t involve social media.
Can social media be a good thing for children to use? There are always two sides to arguably one of the biggest thing on the planet. The question is not easy to answer.
It is a double-edged sword. The government and social media companies will take some time to make a difference in the safety of children. However, children and parents can minimize the risks by themselves and take advantage of the good side of social media.