Children are spending more and more time online: in fact from the age of eight, they may be spending several hours a day on their devices. And virtually all youngsters use social media, doing their homework early at primary school on a tablet via an app or on a website. And while girls can share their dance moves with the world on Musical.ly, boys are demonstrating their fighting skills in Clash of Clans with people they have never even met. Friend requests are accepted without a second thought and privacy settings are seldom written in a language that children can understand.
We can do a lot better as parents
Recent research shows that 85 per cent of parents use technological resources (i.e. smartphones, tablets, etc.) to keep their children busy. But at the same time, 68 per cent of them never check on their children’s online activities.
An equally high a percentage of parents surveyed by Harvard University say that they have already helped their children to create an account for one or more social media platforms, whereas most of these platforms – justifiably – apply an age limit of 13. So, as parents, not only do we ignore the recommendations, but we even lead our children into temptation.
Who are your children’s friends online?
So, while we don’t keep a proper eye on what our children do online, we also don’t know who their friends are. Plus, of course, we all know only too well how easy it is to pretend to be someone else when we’re online.
So advise your children to find out properly first who the person behind the friend request actually is – and don’t accept them just like that. Teach them that having a long list of friends doesn’t mean that you’re particularly cool or even very popular. Go through their list of friends with them from time to time and ask them who they genuinely know and how well they know them.
Deleting things is not an option on social media
‘Forever’ is a fairly abstract concept for young children. But nevertheless it is important to make them aware that what they share on social media stays online forever, even if they delete the content or close their account. You should also ask them whether they really want people who they barely know (or not at all) to know so much about them. A good rule of thumb is only to allow them to add someone as a friend who they actually know.
A safe environment
Make your children aware of the dangers and risks posed by social media, but don’t make them afraid either. So create a safe environment for them. Make sure that they don’t use any apps and games that aren’t appropriate for their age. Place the computer in the living area and also get them accustomed to using their tablet there as well. That way you can also keep an eye on your kids’ online activities without appearing to be Big Brother. They will be more inclined to show you what they are doing and you can talk openly about it within the family. And, finally, ensure that your children know that they can come to you if they have any doubts about what they can and cannot do on social media or if they are being bullied online.