For most parents these days, there’s no avoiding social media.
You probably have it yourself, as do all your friends, and if you’re among the vast majority of parents in Australia — your kids will have it too.
According to the ACMA, 4 years ago only 45 per cent of 8-11 year olds were using social media….
That proportion has now risen to at least 60 per cent, with many of the platforms in question being age restricted (generally for users aged 13+).
So while trying to eliminate social media from your family’s life would be fighting an increasingly steep up-hill battle, there are some easy, preventative ways to help keep your children safe on these platforms.
And according to our psychologists, the key is education and awareness.
The first step is educating yourself, then passing this knowledge onto your kids, and giving them the Social Media Smarts they need to navigate these platforms.
Understanding the Dangers
Online predators still pose a great risk to children on social media.
It is important that you familiarise yourself with all the privacy settings in place to help protect your children.
Especially for young kids, it’s important that they have a private profile, limit the amount of personal information they put online (especially addresses and phone numbers), and minimise friend requests from people they don’t know.
Privacy settings will vary from platform to platform, so it’s best to research each program individually.
Our staff psychologist Deborah Jensen wrote about what you should look out for on this post from a few years ago.
Young girls especially are facing increasing pressure to engage in the exchange of nude photographs, otherwise known as ‘sexting’.
Dr. Greg Carr has seen patients as young as 10 years old suffering from severe anxiety as a result of exchanging naked photos via social media platforms.
Carr says he counsels young girls who are suffering as a result of social media, often the result of ‘compromising photos’, no less than once every six to eight weeks…
‘But it’s probably a hell of a lot more common than that’, he claims.
It’s important to understand that sexting does not just threaten your child’s privacy…
It also often leads to bullying, humiliation, anxiety and depression.
Cyber safety expert Susan McLean says she has seen ‘hideous’ cyber bullying occur from primary school aged students.
This bullying can come in many different forms, such as unapproved photo sharing, harassment, hacking, name calling, exclusion and public humiliation.
She’s even seen kids ‘set up accounts in other kids’ names and use that as a tool to bully and harass other people.’
It’s crucial that you know the different ways a child can be victimised by cyber bullying, so you know what you — and your child — should look out for.
Reach Out has offered a comprehensive guide to cyber bullying that can help you understand how and when it can happen HERE.
Depression and Anxiety
One report — Social Media Use and Children’s Wellbeing — states that when kids between 10 to 15 years old use social media frequently they tend to be more unhappy.
‘Spending one hour a day chatting on social networks reduces the probability of being completely satisfied with life overall by approximately 14 percentage points’, says the author of the study.
In addition to cyberbullying, this has been largely attributed to an increase in comparison-making and a decrease in real life, face-to-face activities.
If your child loses interest in other activities, becomes agitated or anxious when they can’t access social media, or is constantly distracted by it, they may have a technology or social media addiction.
There’s easy ways to prevent this from happening, though, and it’s important to know that simply using social media a lot doesn’t suggest an addiction.
It’s when their use of social media interferes and disrupts their ability to function that it may be a problem.
Being aware of the signs and symptoms of technology addiction, and what you can do to avoid it is integral.
Read more about technology addiction HERE.
So now you’ve educated yourself on the dangers of social media, it’s time to focus on the kids.
What your child needs to understand about Social Media
The permanence of posting
It can be a hard concept for kids to grasp – that their future selves may not want to publicise the same personal information that they do now.
Make it simple for them, and if they can’t conceive of their future selves, go to the past…
Would a 13 year old want all their friends to know about their barbie doll collection?
Emphasise to your kids the inescapable permanence of online posting, and that what they post now could hurt them in the future.
Suggesting to them that they never post something on an impulse and wait a few hours (or days) before doing it can be a good start.
Understanding the different forms of bullying
Cyber bullying manifests itself in many different ways, and some are less obvious than others.
Make sure you and your kids know what to look out for.
For example, a more subtle form of cyber bullying may be other kids privately sharing a photo that someone else has posted, or creating their own post imitating it.
A key concept is that if your child feels uncomfortable about something they’ve seen or heard about that’s happened online, it’s likely that it’s a problem.
And if someone is upset about something that’s happened online, if absolutely needs to be addressed.
Having empathy for others
It’s one thing to protect your kids from being the victims of bullying, but it’s equally important to make sure they aren’t perpetrating it.
Teaching your kids about empathy and encouraging them to see how their social media behaviour may affect others will play a huge role in preventing them from engaging in online bullying behaviour.
The ‘unreality’ of social media
Kids need to understand that while social media profiles can be a reflection of someone’s identity, they’re a very carefully curated one.
In particular, photos can be harmful to young girls and set up unrealistic standards of beauty.
‘Education around the skewed perception of social media is so important’, says our staff psychologist Dani Kaufman.
‘Obviously people don’t put up unattractive photos up of themselves, so naturally without even trying there’s pictures of beautiful people everywhere.’
‘That can really affect your self-esteem or sense of self, so having awareness that it’s skewed and that its not reality, and having that understanding that it can affect the way that you feel and what you see without even knowing it is crucial.’
‘You can’t stop your kids from being exposed to those pictures, but acknowledging that just because that’s what we see online is not what’s in the real world is a vital lesson to be learnt.’
So now that you know what you need to know, and what your kids need to know….
Here’s what you can do to make your kids Social Media Smart
Talk to them first.
‘Parents really need to be involved, in explaining things to their kids about the permanence of their posts and the impact of their words’, says our staff psychologist Jessica Levetan.
It’s not enough to rely on the school system to teach them, and unfortunately, social media safety is not being adequately addressed.
While many experts believe that this should be mandatory, ‘many primary schools are failing to teach their students about the dangers of social media’, says ABC reporter Samantha Selinger-Morris.
That’s just one of the reasons why social media education needs to start at home – ideally from a young age, and before your kids first sign up to social media platforms.
Take the time to sit down with them and discuss all the issues addressed above in age-appropriate terms.
Lead by example.
Parents are the most influential people in their children’s lives.
If you do things on social media that you wouldn’t want your kids to do – think again.
Make sure they know they can trust you.
When having these early conversations with your kids, make sure they also know they can come to you with any concerns, and that you won’t judge them, be angry, or share the information without their consent.
Dr Carr said that a difficulty unique to Australian kids is the stigma around ‘dobbing’, and it makes them more reluctant to share upsetting or problematic things they may have seen online.
Some of the victims of online bullying Dr Carr sees have suffered more bullying for ‘dobbing’ in their bullies.
So it’s an invaluable comfort to your children that they know they can come to you without fear of furthering the problem.
Limit their usage.
Set clear boundaries for where and when your kids can access social media.
Dinner time should be a ‘screen-free’ zone, as well as trips in the car or other opportunities where they should be talking to you instead of someone else through a digital device.
Implementing restrictions early on will help your child to develop healthy habits, and avoid becoming too consumed (or even addicted) to social media.
Social media can be scary for parents and their kids — but by helping them to be smart with their choices, you can also help them to stay safe.
And if you are in Melbourne and would like some some extra help with this issue?
Click the button below to book your initial parent consultation and get the right advice for your child’s needs.