Social media is an ever present and ever growing part of our culture. It offers many benefits to our children including connection, creativity and a greater knowledge of the wider world. There is also tremendous good that can come out of the various campaigns that social media highlights; it can be a voice to those who struggle to speak out and can also put the spotlight on issues that are potentially hidden from view.
There is however, a darker side that is becoming increasingly concerning, especially with regards to the targeting of children. Research by Ofcom in 2019 notes that although thirteen is the minimum age for most social media sites, 12% of nine-year-olds have a social media profile; by age ten, 21% have a profile and 34% do by the age of eleven. The attitudes of society have shifted and it is seen as acceptable, almost inevitable, that our children and young people will access social media before their thirteenth birthday.
Social media can flag up a huge number of issues for our children. Originally adult tools used in the adult world, children have quickly overtaken their parents in their use of the technology and the mastery of it. They move from app to app without trouble, often finding new platforms before any concerns can be raised. Children can quickly feel left out or excluded if they aren’t using a particular app; the fear of missing out often driving its usage.
As adults we struggle to make good decisions in the online world. Children struggle even more, and even on the most basic of text conversations; dialogue can quickly descend into unkindness and potential bullying in the blink of an eye. Things are said through a message that would never be used in person and language used that would never be uttered verbally.
The recent media storm over a man committing suicide has once again put large social media corporations under the microscope. Their inability to shut down harmful content is glaringly obvious and the lack of real regulation makes policing social media an incredibly difficult task. Distressing and appalling videos are posted and reposted with children exposed to this harmful content, but also unable to distinguish between the good and the bad.
The good news is, we as parents can help. We can sometimes feel powerless in the face of our children’s wants and can easily cave in or turn a blind eye. Instead, we need to be active in communicating with our children, reminding them of the permanency of anything posted online. We need to tell them about those pitfalls, recognising that as in all things, they need our support to make good choices. It is up to us to have an oversight of what they are watching, the conversations that they are having and the sites they are visiting. We cannot leave children to learn from their mistakes on social media. The results can be too damaging and cause lasting harm. Putting boundaries in place might not be fashionable but when it comes to social media, is totally necessary.
Nick Thrower, Assistant Head (Pastoral)Back to all news