There has been a lot of negative publicity surrounding children’s usage of social media in recent times, including the proliferation of cyberbullying. While the news isn’t all bad, it’s important that you get acquainted with some of the risks involved and ensure that your child understands how to use social media safely.
Things you should be aware of
Using social networks is normal among older children and teens. Research conducted by Monash University in 2011 found that almost 95 per cent of Victorian students in Years 7 to 10 have used a social network site at some point and that students surveyed updated their profile (whether through a status update, posted photograph or otherwise) at least once per day.
Make sure the social networks your child is using are appropriate for their age. If you’re not sure, do a little bit of research and see what other parents are saying online. If you know which sites your child is using, you might find that they have a section that offers information and tips for parents. On Facebook, for example, this is located in the site’s Help Centre under Tools for Parents and Educators.
Remember that your child may have access to social network sites from multiple devices, including their mobile phone. This might mean that they’re spending a lot longer online than you’re aware of. This can have a negative effect on their sleeping patterns, homework and even class time.
Things you can discuss with your child
Be mindful of who your child connects with. Ensure your child knows that they should only make connections with people they know ‘offline’. They should also be aware of the potential dangers of arranging to meet someone in person who they have spoken to online or divulging personal information.
Ensure that your child is aware of cyberbullying. It’s important that your child is aware of the steps to take if they are being bullied, but also the potential ramifications if they bully someone else. They should also know that they can come to you, or another trusted adult, if a serious issue occurs. Keep in mind that most social network sites have a function where abuse can be reported.
Talk to your child about the content they put online. Your child should be aware that the things they post — even when deleted — may still appear elsewhere online (someone could save an image or ‘screenshot’ a post and pass it onto others). This also applies to personal information that appears on their profile. While adding their birthday is okay, they should avoid including their year of birth as this can pose the risk of identity theft. They should never post their phone number, home address or the school they attend. Most social networks allow users to alter their privacy settings. This means that your child can protect the content they post from public view. As this differs between sites, ensure that your child is aware of their settings on each site if they use multiple social networks.
If you’re worried about your child’s social media use, it’s best to sit down with them and have a chat about your concerns. Note that not all the points above will apply to the social networks your child is using. The steps you take to monitor and intervene with your child’s social media use are up to you, depending on what best suits your family.