We have been asked this week to take part in East Coast Radio’s Morning Show series of segments on Online Safety – namely ‘teenager’s use of social media and what parents can do’. Here we hope to give some general information we will share as well as links we will mention.
There seems to be a sneaking fear that young people are using all sorts of social media platforms that adults and parents aren’t aware of, or only the barest handle on. There is a whole other world that is an adult free zone, and any adults that are there are probably up to no good. There are probably aspects of this idea that are true, but in general it’s an exaggeration.
What are teenagers doing on line?
In the main, they are doing the obvious. They are chatting with friends. They are keeping track of the latest developments within their social grouping and other peers. They are developing friendships and forming romantic relationships.
They are taking photos and sharing them. Some are posting videos. Mostly for specific people or friends but sometimes for more general consumption. Much of this is everyday conversation, banal and uninteresting except for those involved.
It’s also a chance for a teenager to present the best version of them self. For every selfie posted a lot more are taken and discarded until one is deemed good enough to share. They are a chance to get the approval of peers.
If a young person is creative, the internet offers the opportunity to share work and perhaps get noticed. If they are skilled at something or have strong opinions about social issues they can create tutorial videos about make-up or gaming or something else relevant to their followers. Or they explain to the world why a particular issue is important. They do pranks. They make silly noises. They share their worries and their hopes. If they are lucky they can create fame and a career for themselves. If they are unlucky, notoriety can follow.
Teenagers are still using Facebook, but not in the same numbers. Twitter is not so popular with young people.
There are a number of communication apps for free texting etc such as Whatsapp or maybe Facebook messenger. Youtube remains popular for listening to music, although many will have an app (like Free Music) that links to online content to create free music play lists. Some will have the paid for streaming apps like Spotify.
Video sharing is popular and has been added to instagram now, but Vine is popular too.
Newer apps that are getting mentioned in media are Musical.ly (22 in Google Play App chart) which allows users to lipsync to songs and share the videos. Yellow (78 in Google Play App chart) also gets a bit of a mention, but usually in a negative light as it’s been dubbed as ‘Tinder for kids’.
Young people are fairly well versed in the dangers online, but there is no place for complacency or to assume this is the case for all young people. By and large the principle issue that affects their day to day online life is cyberbullying, or temporary dramas that aren’t quite bullying but are upsetting when they happen.How they may also be exposed to inappropriate images and harmful websites. Online risks may include any or all of the following:
- Online bullying is not just name calling or posting horrible things about a person. They include exclusion from group chats, or creating fake profiles to impersonate or to post horrible stuff about someone.
- Grooming remains a problem as highlighted recently by the ‘Kayleigh’s story’ case in the UK.
- Intimate or inappropriate images getting shared without consent beyond the person they were intended for
- Clicking dodgy pages that result in computers or phones getting infected with a cyber nasty
- Websites promoting hate speech, or harmful health choices.
Tips for parents
In an ideal world parents will know what their child is doing on line. They will be on their friends/followers list and can see everything their child posts online and it will be safe and worry free.
In the real world teens want privacy from their parents. They will look to have their own phone or device so that they can go about their online life without adult interference. Parents may not know what apps are on their child’s phone, let alone how they are used.
If a child is young, it is not unreasonable to know exactly what’s on the phone and to have access to the phone and any passwords etc. But as a child grows older and is perhaps paying for the phone and credit themselves, they may expect more privacy. That time will obviously differ from person to person.
- Talk to your child. Whether online or offline, having a good relationship with your child should mean you can chat about what they do online, what the risks are and how to avoid them. It also means that if something happens they are more likely to come to you and tell you about it. The same messages you give about relationships and keeping safe offline often operate the same principles as online safety.
- Educate yourself – what are the different apps used by young people? What do they do? What are the risks? Do you know how to work the phone?
- Get your child to show you how apps work. Download apps on to your phone, familiarise yourself with some basics. You don’t have to be an expert or to join up properly. Explain you just want to have a look, find out about the settings then together you can delete it from your phone.
- Use Spunout Safety Hub and Webwise to find out about the different apps. They are great Irish sites. Again if you can do it with your child, that’s a good idea.
Spunout will explain about different apps and sites, but information about using different phones. Eg location settings or blocking people. Webwise has sections for parents with advice, explainers and ‘how-tos’ for different things.
- Teach and talk about disclosing person information, the dangers of friending strangers online. Highlight a common sense approach, for instance if someone you don’t know is eager to meet or is asking for photos, videos or money – then chances are they are up to no good.
- Talk about looking at information critically. Don’t take everything at face value. Think before you click on links. Especially pop ups. Chat about click bait. Don’t be afraid to let them educate you on the dangers.
- Discuss the dangers of sharing images online, including consequences for sharing images of other people
- Talk about how to approach friends who may have posted photos that are unflattering – how to ask for them to be removed.
- Teach respect for others generally and this should continue on line. If you wouldn’t show it to your granny, don’t post it online. Good digital citizenship is vital.
- If as a parent you see something on your child’s phone you don’t like – DON’T FREAK OUT! Have a sensible chat about it.
There is no 100% guarantee for safety in any walk of life nowadays, but there are always commonsense steps everyone can take to keep themselves safe. Make sure your child always knows they can talk to you about what’s going on in their life. And if its all a bit scary for you as a parent, look for help. Chances are someone has gone through something similar.