SOCIAL MEDIA + OUR KIDS: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE VERY VERY SINISTER
Photo c/o Tim Gouw via Unsplash
I held two #ChachiCollective meetups in Edinburgh and Glasgow recently. In attendance we had a Head Teacher of a progressive school, writers, teachers, representatives from charities, self-esteem coaches, yogi’s, grandparents, aunts and uncles, occupational therapists, child care recruitment providers, artists, tech professionals and parents. I'm pleased to say it was a wonderful cross section of Scottish society.
Our goal was to discuss what we might need to be aware of as the young people we know and love become more plugged in to connected devices.
I don’t want to go into too much detail about what was discussed because the problem solver in me wants to go straight to the solution rather than dwell in the scary bits but just to give you a taste of the things which came up during the sessions...
We talked about: Facebook Pixels, Cookies, Artificial intelligence, Online Grooming, Consent, Data stripped out of images we upload to Facebook, Websites which Catalogue Social Media Feeds, Accessibility of Pornography, Revenge Porn, Location finding features, Child Technology Legislation, External Validation, Pressures to do with body image, connectedness vs. ‘always on’, fomo (fear of missing out), cyberbullying, data security, consent, constant comparing/ jealousy… If I explained each of those to you in details we'd be here till Christmas and you'd probably lock your kids away and never let their fingers near an iPad till they were 45. (Maybe a good idea!)
Here’s the important stuff:
Firstly, do you really know what the term ‘social media’ can cover?
Wikipedia explains social media as: “computer-mediated technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas, career interests and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks”
Yeah, we all think of Facebook and Instagram when we think of social media but the myriad of ways that we (and our kids) can talk to each other is much more varied than you would first think. And that makes it very important for us to be aware of what our children are experiencing on-line.
I asked Rob Gelb from Kindaba, a recently launched, completely secure, private social network for families, to be my guest speaker at both meetups. His team created Kindaba to counter the fears parents face about their children being online and they have done a lot of research into the subjects of privacy, cyberbullying and online security. He outlined what the 4 main ‘types’ of social media are:
Messaging Services: Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp (did you consider it to be a social media, I didn’t), Skype etc.
Profile Based Platforms (you have your own profile and connect to a network): Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Musical.ly etc.
Anonymous Question + Answer services: Sarahah, Ask.FM (the truly worrying social media, I think)
Computer Games: Minecraft, Roblox, IMVU etc. (many games have online chat functions which mean they fall under the social media bracket)
As you will read below it's extremely important to know what your kids are dealing with online. There may be an unknown chat function on eight year old Sophie's cat feeding computer game, which you didn't realise was there.
Social Media can be a minefield but it isn’t all bad…
Social Media can encourage a feeling of connectedness, camaraderie, inclusiveness. It can keep far apart families informed on children’s development. It can encourage education, self discovery, individualism, creativity and responsibility as well as help children be aspirational.
And when we talk about the scary stuff to do with social media I'd like to point out that in both sessions it was noted that bullying, self esteem issues, negative body image, comparing yourself to others... they aren't new. Generations have suffered from these very same issues so social media isn't to blame....
But the difference now is: it's amplified. There is no break from it because people have their phones on them all the time. Bullying and pressure can be carried out right under the noses of vigilant authority figures and serious situations can escalate extremely quickly.
Parents get to decide…
It’s up to you what you decide is right for your child. You may be happy for your child to use any platform or some specifically chosen platforms. You may not want them to use anything at all. You may want to check their online conversations or you may want to encourage and respect their privacy and boundaries.
Whatever you decide, it’s your responsibility to keep them safe and that doesn’t only extend as far as the green cross code and the school playground. Taking steps to encourage mental AND physical safety means being aware of what they may face online.
Ways to Help
Be a Role Model: Be an example of what ‘normal’ online use is. Try not to show that you ‘need’ to share everything online or are bothered by what everyone else is sharing.
Keep the Communication Lines Open: Just like we all did when we were young we make mistakes, things go wrong, something blows out of proportion, things spread around schools and you think the world is going to end. The most important thing is to make sure that your child knows that no matter what happens they can come to you to seek help, discuss the issue and be comforted. Guard your reaction if needs be. They may already feel a lot of shame, if you add to it then it might mean they don't want to share with you. Make sure that they understand that if repercussions are to follow, then you will work through it together. You know something may happen, and of course you’d like them to make smart choices but whatever happens make sure that they know they can always come to you. I can still hear my mum's words in my ear: “There is nothing so awful that it cannot be resolved”. I can’t thank her enough for making that very clear.
Encourage Self Discovery Education and Allow them to Fail: From as young an age as possible, let your child learn on their own and allow them to fail. Encourage resilience. This is so that if they do something wrong or something happens in school/ on social media, they aren’t going to think the world is imploding. Failing is a natural part of life. Encourage it: what did they learn from failure each time it happens? What are they going to do next?
Suggest a time out: In the days before smart phones and social media most of us (I don’t naively think all of us) had a safe haven. A place safe from what was happening with friends, bullies and school. And normally that was home. With new tech being in kids hands 24/7 kids these days don’t have the same ability to escape, as previous generations had. When things are heating up, make sure your child steps away from social media. Put the phone down. Take a break.
Set Online Boundaries: Even though there are online tools like Microsoft Family and Bark to help make sure that young eyes don't see sites they aren't ready to, be aware that when something is 'off limits' it may just be seen as a challenge. Communication could come in to play here to make it clear that it's ok for some things to be seen/ understood when they are older.
Unveil the mystery: Helping a child understand what a computer is, how it works and just some of the things it can be used for, could help a child recognise a computers power as well as their power when using one. This understanding could perhaps help them see what they could create rather than just using an iPad to pass the time. Maybe speak to your child's school and suggest they bring in a speaker to discuss this with the class.
It may be helpful to read my previous blog about how to prevent your child from having a negative body image or how to cope if your child comes to you suffering from a body image issue. Link here.
In addition to the meetups I was also pleased to meet with Tom McGunnigle, a Police Sergeant from the Safer Communities Division for Greater Glasgow. He explained the role of Safer Communities in making sure that children are looked after and how they are tackling violent extremism, child exploitation and online bullying. Learn more about Safer Communities here.
Social Media is amplifying and adding some tricky new hurdles in the way of making sure our kids are safe. I mainly recommend that you stay informed and stay vigilant. There are some excellent resources below which may be fun to review with your children, or to read / watch yourself to make sure you are in the know.
Some Incredible Resources to help you navigate the World of Social Media