As a mother of five children, whose ages range from 9 years to 22 years old, I have parented through a time when social media was virtually non-existent, to a time where it is used on a daily basis.
Impact of smartphones on children
The increase in smartphone use has had a large impact on what social media is available at my children’s fingertips. For instance, my 22-year-old son did not have a mobile phone until he was thirteen, or a smartphone until he was sixteen, whereas my 13-year-old daughter has had her own phone since she was eleven when she started getting the bus to school. The ‘desire’ to use social media at a younger age has been a lot more noticeable with this child and she is a regular user of Instagram and Snapchat, and has just recently opened a Facebook account.
Monitoring my children on social media
I follow my children on all their social media accounts; it has been an unwritten rule that if they want to have these accounts they must allow this. However, accounts like Snapchat make it harder to monitor everything that is being shared and it seems increasingly popular for the younger teens to converse among friends on it, with the trend to only send messages to certain people.
Giving younger kids a safe online experience
My youngest child is allowed online to play games such as Club Penguin, Minecraft and Subnautica. Our desktop computer is in the kitchen so I am always present but it wouldn’t be practical to sit with him the whole time. As we don’t have internet safety software (a conscious decision made because we found it prevented even the most innocent of searches) he does ask my permission/advice before doing any online searches for schoolwork. My son also has access to an iPad with apps I have approved, his favourite being YouTube Kids which I feel happy knowing is safe for his age.
Having conversation about what they share
I talk regularly to the younger children and the older ones occasionally, about what is appropriate to share online and obviously this varies with the different ages. With the older children I remind them of the potential trawling of social media accounts by would-be employers and to be aware of the impact of what they post.
The so called ‘Internet Police’
The children have all been given several talks within school: my nine year old calls them the ‘Internet Police’. To reinforce this information I ask him what he thinks is appropriate to share and he seems to be very clued-up on the matter. I remind all the children about the dangers of people pretending to be the same age as them online.
Preparing children to share safely on social
I have also insisted that social media accounts are made private and that they only add friends they know in real life, in reality I’m not naïve and I know a lot of children have friends of friends. My youngest daughter knows the dangers of sharing inappropriate photos not only for herself but also the consequences that can arise for the person receiving these photos. Used in the right way social media is great but it can be disastrous when a ‘private’ message or photo is copied and shared around. I tell my children not to write anything in a message they wouldn’t want the world to see, once it’s been sent or posted it can be ‘out there’ forever.
I have friends who find social media frightening and I tell them to use these apps so they know exactly what they mean to their children and can understand them, as well as befriend them!
Being on social media myself for work has meant that I am usually either one step ahead or at least on the same level as my children. I am a great believer that if you ban something then there is the potential risk that your child will do it anyway without your knowledge and that is when it becomes dangerous.
Nova Gowers writes about food, family and life at Cherished By Me