I ask a lot of parents whose children are in primary school (i.e., between the ages of 5 and 12) if their children use social media. When I raise the topic in a group setting, roughly 30% of parents say their children use social media. The rest are relieved to be able to answer no, phew for that!
However there’s a slight problem with that. When I ask the children of those parents if they’re on social media, about 90% of them tell me they are.
Hmmm…something isn’t quite adding up!
The outcome is always the same, regardless of what survey results or statistics you read or what you learn from personal experience. About 60% of parents who don’t think their children are using social media are wrong. But not one of them believes for a minute that it’s their child who might be using social media without them knowing it.
There’s no doubt about it: a LOT of children are using social media without their parent’s knowledge, and this may well include your children.
Why Don’t Parents Know If Their Children Are Using Social Media?
Great question. There are two scenarios here. Either:
- Your children have asked if they can use social media and you’ve said no, being the responsible parent who understands that the minimum required ages for using social media platforms are there for a reason; or
- Your children didn’t ask you first as they presumed you’d say no, so they’ve just started using social media without telling you. Of course this way they’re not disobeying you as you haven’t actually told them they couldn’t be there.
Let’s take a closer look at scenario #1. Your children may have complained about you saying no, and maybe you had an argument about it at the time. But then nothing more was said.
However, lets look at the reasons why children want to start using social media.
Peer pressure is a very powerful thing and it starts when children are very young. If your children’s friends are on social media then obviously your children will want to be there too. Every child wants to belong and to be socially accepted by their peers, and a large amount of social activity between friends happens online.
Fear Of Missing Out
The “fear of missing out” (FOMO) is huge for children in primary school who haven’t yet reached their teens. Their worst nightmare is that their peers may be talking about them behind their back, and this can easily become the reality thanks to social media. They also don’t want to miss out on parties and other events through not hearing about them online – who sends physical invitations out anymore?
Read also: Is FOMO Sabotaging Your Health?
Children Take The Only Option They Can
Put yourself in your child’s shoes. You really want to do what your friends are doing, and in this instance that means using social media. Your fear of missing out is more powerful than your desire to follow your parent’s instructions.
So you do the only thing you can do to create a win/win scenario: you start using social media behind your parent’s back. Now you get to fit in with your friends, and all you have to do is cover your tracks so that your parents don’t find out.
Maybe you delete your history, or maybe you only check in using a friend’s device when you’re at school; there’s no way your parents will ever know if you’re doing that. Everybody wins, right?
What’s The Big Deal?
Children under 13 years simply don’t have the emotional intelligence to keep themselves safe on social media. They consistently overshare information that puts them at risk from hacking, online predators and cyber bullying. They will undoubtedly see inappropriate content and may create some of their own.
Some of the content they share may result in lost opportunities in future – it’s not uncommon for young adults to lose the opportunity to study, get their dream job or in fact get any job at all as a result of what they may have shared online years earlier. They may miss out on their dream relationship in future, and they frequently yet unknowingly break the law through their online activities involving inappropriate images.
Children simply have no concept that what goes online stays online, and can affect them for years to come. Hearing those words and understanding the full truth behind them are two very different things.
Read also: 10 Things I Learned When I Gave Up Facebook
Your Children Need Your Help
Obviously, as a parents we’re concerned about our child’s safety. However, many kids utilize social media to stay safe, healthy, and engaged, especially when their parents are on board. And if we put our teenagers up for success, keep lines of communication open, and stay informed about their social media lives, any problems they encounter will be speed bumps rather than barriers.
Children need parental guidance to help them stay safe online. However if your children are using social media without your knowledge, regardless of whether they’ve asked you if they can be there or not, they’re now in a position where they can’t come to you for help if/when they need it.
Now you have the worst possible scenario: children using social media without understanding online etiquette leads to trouble.
Let me ask the question again: is it possible your children could be using social media without your knowledge? Do you really know what your children are doing online?
What You Can Do To Help Your Children
For many children and teenagers, sharing information and photographs via social media is a part of daily life. Kids can use social media to communicate with one another as well as capture and share their activities in real time. Because of social media’s networking potential, it’s not uncommon for children to be connected with people they’ve never met in person.
It’s worth asking your children the question of whether they’re using social media, but you need to approach this wisely. In other words your timing has to be right, and you need to ask the question in a very non-threatening way. The idea is not to be angry with your children, but to be able to help them avoid the numerous pitfalls they’ll otherwise be facing online.
Before you ask them the question it needs to be framed properly. Reassure them that the only way they can get in trouble with you is by not answering the question honestly, ie an honest affirmative answer will not get them in trouble. Make it very easy for them to tell them what they’re doing, and they’ll most likely feel a huge weight has been lifted from their shoulders.
Of course then you can open up a whole new conversation with your children that can be invaluable – not only can you help them stay safe online, but you’ll also have improved your relationship.
How Parents Can Protect Their Children From Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is a type of online harassment that causes harm to others. Cyberbullies frequently use technology to harass, threaten, and ridicule their victims. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 20 percent of all students had experienced bullying in some form. Abuse on the internet can take numerous forms, including:
- Bullying someone
- Impersonating someone
- Publishing someone’s personal information
- Sharing photos without permission
- Creating a blog or website about someone
- Posting a video that shows a victim of bullying
Cyberbullying can take many different forms, and none of them should be overlooked. Children often feel helpless and afraid since internet abuse occurs at all hours of the day and night, and they may not even know who their attacker is. Children may feel vulnerable and humiliated as a result of abusers sharing intimate and often even inaccurate information about their victims, and the abuse can have a significant impact on their self-confidence.
One of the frightening aspects is that anyone can become a bully’s target. Fortunately, there are steps you can take as a parent to limit your child’s risk of cyberbullying. Like every parent, you don’t want your child to be a victim of cyberbullying. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to greatly reduce the risk of this happening.
To combat all of these threats and to protect children and teenagers when surfing the internet, public awareness programs are broadcast on television and radio or placed on the street on a regular basis. Parents are the primary target of awareness efforts so that they can learn how to safeguard their children from the dangers of modern technologies. The emphasis is also on educating young people about the various types of abuse that might occur, as well as the importance and value of their privacy.
Parents can help their children protect themselves by becoming more involved in their children’s online activities and learning about the dangers of online communications. According to one recent study, 68% of parents admit that they do not systematically talk to their children about what they do or see on the Internet, and 74% of children aged 12 to 15 spend at least three hours a day surfing online. No doubt that with so much time spent on the Web, they are sometimes confronted with what they should not see.
Restrict use of Smartphones
There is no doubt smartphone has many benefits for you and your child. It is a great safety tool. Your child can use it to let you know they’ve arrived safely at their destination, call you to pick them up in case of an emergency. You can also use the GPS on their phone to track their location. Knowing that your child is always reachable gives parents peace of mind.
However, smartphones can also be misused, and can leave children vulnerable in certain situations. Because smartphones are personal gadgets, parents often have no idea how or what our children do with them. If you’re thinking of buying your child a smartphone, make sure you have clear rules in place ahead of time so everyone is on the same page. It’s not too late to revise the family rules if your child already owns a smartphone. Demonstrate to them that owning a smartphone comes with a lot of responsibilities.
Empower Your Children
Probably the most effective way to protect children’s rights on the Internet is to give them the tools to ensure their own safety and to become aware of their responsibilities. There are many voices calling for the right of children to erase their online footprints and “be forgotten.
While it is necessary for children to be ready to deal with the consequences of irresponsible dissemination of personal data, it is even more important to act preventively by educating them about the hazards and long-term effects of exchanging personal information on the Internet. Over the last 10 years, many international organizations have emphasized the critical need of empowering children via education, which includes educating them how to behave in the digital world. Children should be able to recognize and understand dangerous content as well as respond appropriately. They should also be more aware of human rights, in particular the right to freedom of expression and the right to privacy, but also of the rights of others, which they must respect and ensure are not infringed.
Keep Track of your Child’s Internet Usage
Always be on the lookout for your baby’s Internet use. For starters, keep the computer your child uses in a visible location. Decide on specific standards for online behavior and remind them on a regular basis. For instance, caution kids about sharing personal information with strangers, such as their name, school, address, phone number, and so on. Inform them that a buddy can be impersonated. Teach children not to respond to obnoxious messages or other forms of bullying, but to report them to you right away.
Help your child create social networking accounts and other profiles. Always be aware of their passwords. Add your child as a friend to any pages they use and track their activities. Tell your child that you are allowed to read all their messages, emails, text messages and anything else related to technology. Only allow them to chat and correspond when someone is home.