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Social media: How to keep your children safe online

Social media and how to keep your children safe online

I came across the following article in Sainsbury’s magazine, which although isn’t my usual source of content for the blog, in this case, it transcends both home and work life.

Like it or not, the use of social media is rife among teens – and even younger children.  So what are the dangers and how can we keep our kids safe online?, asks Marina Gask.

If your children aren’t on Facebook yet, then chances are you won’t be able to stop them from joining at some point.  ‘All my friends are on it’, ‘It’s just a laugh’, ‘You can’t stop me’ – a barrage of such arguments will be used until you relent, quite possibly before they reach 13, the age Facebook stipulates you must be to join.

According to a study by the London School of Economics (LSE), one in three children in the UK between the ages of 9 and 12 has their own Facebook page.  Among 13-16-year-olds, that number shoots up to 88%.  We can assume that of the 15.6 hours that, according to Ofcom, 12-15-year-olds are spending on the Internet each week, a large chunk will be spent on social media sites.

While social media sites may seem like a bit of harmless fun, there are some implications that need closer inspection.  For example, half of European 11-16-year-olds say they find it easier to be themselves on the Internet than when they’re with people face to face according to the LSE study.  These young people can behave one way in person but have a very different online persona.  What’s more, young people tend to take more risks online and say things, post pictures or act in certain ways that they wouldn’t have the confidence to do in real life.

The fact is that engaging in the conversation online can make children feel more remote and therefore less accountable for their actions and words, and as a result, they can even say things that they later regret.  Young people in online environments, particularly when instant messaging, can also sometimes feel more comfortable revealing really quite intimate things about themselves.  “For people with a sexual interest in children, this can fast-track the grooming process”, says Jonathan Baggaley, head of education at the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP).

As a parent, on the basis of these arguments, you would be forgiven for deciding that Facebook needs to be banned outright.  But as long as we talk our children through the dangers and implications of social media behaviour, there’s no need to exclude them from one of the most popular forms of youth interaction of our time.  Social media sites are a part of modern-day life and they’re here to stay.

Keep your children safe online with these protective measures:

  • Don’t be afraid of technology – keep the computer in a family room and ask your child to show you how to use social media sites.  A lot of parents are put off as they’re aware their children know more about the technology than they do, but ignorance can be dangerous.
  • Keep interfering – Don’t be afraid to monitor their usage and set times they can use social media sites.
  • Get information from the experts – Visit to learn about simple ways to keep children safe online.  There’s a ‘Click CEOP’ app on Facebook and a CEOP page that your child can ‘like’, which gives useful safety information, plus an easy means of reporting suspected grooming.
  • ‘Friend’ your child on Facebook – If your child is under 13 you should be involved in what they’re doing by being part of their social media network.
  • Set their profile to private – Look at each privacy setting and the information that can be shared, and make sure their profile is set only to be shared with friends.  Check the privacy rules are forever changing when we’re not looking.
  • Explain the risks – Many children now join social media sites before the stipulated age, which is 13 for Facebook.  If you say no there’s a chance they’ll do it anyway, so make sure you talk to them about the potential risks and consequences regardless of whether or not you want them to join.
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