Whilst social media connects us to friends and family across the world, and has been a godsend in the pandemic to allow us to feel closer to loved ones, it brings with it risks and challenges. This is particularly evident in the lives of children and teenagers. As parents and professionals, teaching safe online use and managing those challenges is becoming more important as we help young people navigate social media and balance fun with safety.
Since lockdown, social media has increased it’s agenda in the world. Whilst it was a fantastic commodity during the craziness of full lockdown, it comes with it’s own dangers and perils, often:
- under the radar
- out of parent sight
- not discussed
- causing high levels of distress
Which ever is your poison, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok, Pinterest or Snap Chat, they all have a hidden level of risk, and before we know it, our children can become the gazelle in the wilderness, being circled by lions, waiting apprehensively to see which one will pounce on them……
Our job, as adults is to ensure that they
- Don’t pounce
- We remove them from the wilderness
- That if they are in the wilderness we get them back to the safety of our den ASAP
Which is why, we launched our Risks and Challenges online course, to support parents and professionals to increase their understanding of risks affecting young people (find it here).
So, what are some of those things you need to be aware of? and what made me do it?
- Increased availability of #pro-ana sites/pages – pro-ana = pro anorexia – these pages glorify eating disorders and share tips and ideas of how to make yourself perilously ill
- Increased availability of self-harm and suicide pages = like it says on the tin, pages dedicated to sharing tips and ideas for self-harm or promoting suicide
- Increased cyberbullying = there has been a spike in online bullying
- Increased connections from unsavoury adults = I have spoken to both children and parents who have become aware of their child being contacted by adults with ill-intentions through Robolox, SnapChat, Tik Tok having inappropriate conversations or requesting images or details such as phone numbers
- Requests for nude images = an increase in the number of young people being requested or pressured to send nude images
- Offering drugs or alcohol = increased frequency of young people being able to access illegal substances
Just before you throw all phones in the bin….
Whilst terrifying, we can take steps to ensure that young people are safe and this starts with us, and setting positive example.
We simply have to accept that social media is going – nowhere. It’s here, and we need to instead educate ourselves and our families to use it SAFELY, CAREFULLY and REPORT any concerns to a trusted adult.
However, we can make social media safer for children and young people, and ensure that we support them from the moment that they get a phone or device, as well as consistently updating and checking in with our children who are attached at the hip to theirs.
So, what can you do?
- Have open conversations – whilst we want to explode and get angry, this sends the behaviours underground, listen openly, praise them for telling you and seek advice of next steps
- Be a role model – Be aware of what you advocate, what you post and who you associate with – children see our actions as acceptable – be the behaviour you want to see (this includes older siblings)
- Put down phones – engage in family time without phones to allow open conversation and connection – if we all hide behind a screen we cannot see what is happening
- Be tech savvy – Talk through privacy and safety settings with children and teens regularly – spot check social media to ensure that accounts privacy settings are still in place (frequently settings change themselves)
- Have an open door – encourage sharing and talking about concerns – if we know we can help – fi we don’t children can quickly get pulled into a scary world
- Keep phones out of bedrooms – children’s brains are impulsive and do not register risk, keep phones and computers in open areas, and ensure that phones are downstairs at nighttime
- Consider monitoring apps / regular checks on phones – there are a wide range of monitoring apps that can be applied to phones to allow you to check what apps are being used and help keep young people safe.
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