Your child does not know a world without the internet, smart phones and social media.
Being connected and using social media is simply part of life. Apps are used in classrooms to aid teaching and youngsters benefit from being online in many other ways. But as with anything else, cyber life has its upside and its downside.
The cyber life of children, tweens and teens: The upside …
Social media is central to most middle-class teenagers’ lives. It allows them to have fun connecting with their friends and broader online communities. It also helps them become tech savvy while having access to any number of collaborative learning opportunities.
Being connected gives them a sense of community and belonging. Uploading and posting photos and video allow and stimulate creativity.
… and the downside
But, of course, there has to be buzz kill. And the downside of social media is pretty dark. It includes exposure to undesirable and inappropriate content. People can be dangerously mean on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok, especially in the comments sections of posts. Hiding behind a screen and not coming face to face with the person they’re engaging with, people can be aggressive, violent, or sexual, whether in words or images.
This can be extremely damaging to adolescents, who are insecure enough as it is. Cyberbullying can cause tremendous damage in a child’s life. Online shaming has been known to lead to behaviours such as substance abuse and in extreme cases even suicide.
You can’t expect your child not to be on social media at all. You can, however, guide them about online behaviour, risks and safety measure.
Measures to guide and protect your child online
When your child first goes online, it is a good idea to make a bit of a fuss about it and set clear boundaries. Better yet, jot down some guidelines about social media. Explain that they will enjoy the benefits, but their side of the bargain is to use it responsibly and safely. You could go even further and draw up a social media plan for the whole family**.
This plan could stipulate when social media is allowed, for how long and where it is acceptable. For example, it is allowed only after school and once all homework has been done. It is not allowed during meal times or in the mornings before school. Set a rule that the family can be online only in shared spaces like the lounge and kitchen, and not in bedrooms or bathrooms.
Make sure your child understands the implications of sharing inappropriate messages and the dangers of sharing personal information such as phone numbers, email addresses and physical addresses.
Show your child how to block strangers or people who post inappropriate or hurtful comments and warn against clicking on pop-ups, which can link to pornography sites. They should also accept friend requests only from people they know.
You won’t ever be able to know all of your child’s online activity. The best you can do is activate the parental controls a platform offers and educate them in sensible online behaviour.
** Create an online social media plan for your family here.
By Linda Cilliers