The internet is both a hugely beneficial learning resource for children and also a place where a parent’s biggest fears and anxieties reside. Social media, in particular, is a concern for parents given its contentious reputation.
Social networking is hugely popular within younger generations. Kids are becoming increasingly advanced in the way that they use social media apps and websites, with growing numbers of children regularly accessing different platforms from a range of electronic devices including smartphones, tablets, laptops, and gaming consoles; motivating many parents to seek advice on social media safety for kids.
Children as young as 6-years-old use social media
In 82% of online sexual solicitations of a minor, the perpetrator gained information about the victim through their social networking site
23% of 8-9 year olds and 45% of 10-11 year olds are active on social media
28% of 11-to-16-year-olds in Australia have seen sexually explicit images through social media
Social media refers to online services (such as websites, games, and apps) that enable users to create and share content, and connect with other users. Kids use social media to chat with people they know, meet new people with similar interests, plan social events, discuss beliefs, and share photos and videos. But, as with many forms of public interaction, there are potential risks associated with allowing children to get a social media account.
While not all of these risks grow to become actual problems, educating parents about social media safety for kids can play a major role in preventing children from having negative experiences on social networking sites. Furthermore, it can also help them to identify and deal with risks if they do arise.
Social Media | Benefits
Contrary to popular belief, social media is not merely a frivolous byproduct of modern society’s growing digital dependence. Social media can, in fact, offer many benefits for kids, such as:
Staying connected with family and friends
Developing digital media literacy
Enhancing creativity through the sharing of music and artistic work
Connecting with people from different backgrounds and learning about diversity
Developing social skills and expressing identity
Taking part in collaborative learning
Connecting with people who share their interests and experiences
Social Media | Risks
Although there are benefits to children using social media, there are also a number of ubiquitous threats associated with it, including:
Cyberbullying: Cyberbullying refers to the act of deliberately harassing, upsetting, abusing, or embarrassing another person online; which is particularly prevalent through social media platforms
Harmful or Illegal Content: Through social media, children can gain access to materials such as sexually graphic or violent images, content promoting terrorism, information on drugs or weapons, and websites that advocate self-harm or extreme dieting
Privacy: Social networking sites encourage users to share information such as birthdays, full names, and likes and dislikes, which can have privacy implications such as identity theft, loss of privacy, reputation sabotage, and the sharing of private content or information without consent
Location Sharing: Location information can be shared through certain apps and sites. When a person shares an image through social media, the geotagged location data can be witnessed by other users, which potentially notifies strangers of your home address
Viruses and Other Malware: Software intended to damage or control computers can be accidentally downloaded through social network sites, and unsolicited costs can be incurred by clicking on certain links
Sexting: Sexting can lead to legal and emotional ramifications, and sometimes results in sextortion or image-based abuse
Online grooming: Online predators are exceedingly skilled at using social media to identify and target children. They use social networking sites to:
Acquire contact details
Establish a rapport and build trust
Slowly lower inhibitions through gradually including sexual content in conversations
Ask for and send sexually explicit photos
Arrange face-to-face meetings
What Parents Need To Know About Social Media Safety For Kids
Every modern parent likely dreads the day that their child will come to them and ask if they’re allowed to join a social media site. This is why we encourage parents to remember that risk does not always constitute harm and that many children will never live to experience the threats identified earlier.
However, parents should still make vigilant efforts in maintaining social media safety for kids. To help, we’ve listed some Top Tips for Parents below:
1. Get involved and stay involved
Knowing what your child is doing online is the best way to ensure that you’ll know if they encounter online threats. Take an interest in the sites they’re using and familiarise yourself with them. Download them yourself, read public reviews, or check the apps on an eSafety website. It might also be worth helping your child to set up their profile, and ensuring that their information is set to private.
2. Establish ground rules
Talk to your child about what is and isn’t acceptable online behaviour – and advise them on what they should do if they see anything that upsets or frightens them. To prevent screentime from disrupting homework or sleep, it’s also worth discussing how much time they’re allowed to spend on social media per day. This empowers children to use their device responsibly (but remember, it will only work if you are committed to enforcing it).
3. Set a good example
Children follow in their parents’ footsteps, so parents need to set a good example of correct online behaviour and engagement. Keep a clean desktop with up to date security software, and have regular discussions about how to be a responsible and kind digital citizen.
4. Proactively respond to risks
Teaching children to be resilient and savvy is essential in order to proactively manage the risks they face in the online world. You can do this by educating your child about how to keep their identity safe, helping them to understand the potential implications of sharing too much information online, and by teaching them how to safely interact with the people they ‘meet’ online.
5. Remember the power of ‘yes’
While granting access to certain apps and sites is entirely at the discretion of every individual parent, it’s worth noting that saying “no” does not always work. Children are naturals with technology, and can often find a way to circumvent security settings or use forbidden sites secretly. This leaves parents completely blind to potential risks and can leave children unprepared to deal with dangerous situations if they are to arise.
6. Educate and empower
Work with your child to help them develop strategies for the possibility they witness problematic content such as pornography or violence. You should also discuss situations like cyberbullying or unwanted contact. Strategies could include: talking to a trusted adult or sibling, blocking the person, and trying not to retaliate.
7. Never ignore or belittle cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is an extension of conventional bullying, and it extends far beyond the school gate. Victims of cyberbullying can endure severe psychological distress. Instead of telling your child to simply ignore the bully (which is often hard to do when they can be targeted across numerous platforms at any time of day or night) you should encourage your child to discuss their concerns with you, and help them to take control of the situation.
8. Use safety tools and parental controls
A useful way to maintain social media safety for kids is to utilise safety tools and parental controls. Finding the right solution for your family will depend on how old, independent, and trustworthy your child is. Research indicates that blocking and filtering unsuitable content is most effective for young children, but becomes less effective with age. Spyware fosters resentment and distrust, but overseeing a young child’s internet usage is sometimes necessary. The Wangle Family Insites App enables you to monitor device usage and capture the time spent on certain apps or gaming sites. Unlike spyware, it doesn’t give you access to specific content – which protects trust and encourages honest communication between parent and child. The app also analyses behaviour in order to evaluate risk; if a risk is detected, parents will receive a real-time alert with specific details on the threat, and additional resources on how best to approach it.