Although social media offers a great space for children to build friendships with people they know in the real world, there are risks that they need to be aware of to make sure they keep stay safe.
To understand how parents are dealing with their children’s social media lives, a number of parents have shared their personal concerns and experiences of their children’s social lives online.
Read how some parents are helping their children navigate the risks and benefits of social media:
“Keeping tabs on your kids on social media can be tough. Sometimes I feel totally out of control” – Nicola Jenkins, mum of Christie, 14 and Maisie, 12, and five-year-old Bobby
As a mum to a 14-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter, Nicola Jenkins knows how obsessed today’s children can be with their smartphones and social media. “My son Christie, in particular, is addicted,” Nicola, 37, admitted.
While her own social media usage is limited to a quick look through her Facebook page a couple of times a day and the weekly check of Twitter, the same cannot be said of Christie.
He uses Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram as well as chatting to all his friends on Xbox chat.
He said: “I definitely use Facebook the least – I think it’s more for older people – but I’ll check Snapchat throughout the day as I speak to all my friends on there. And then I’ll go on Xbox everyday for about two hours to chat to our group.”
While Nicola – a health visitor from Bedfordshire, and also mum to five-year-old Bobby – has parental controls on the home WiFi and tries to limit Christie’s use of Xbox to no more than two hours, she is concerned some things are out of her control.
“In the house, they can’t get onto to certain websites,” she revealed. “But when he’s on his phone, I can’t stop anything because he could see stuff through 3G. And his friends do like to send him gross videos, they all do. Typical boys. It could be anything from someone eating sick or he recently got sent a vile one, called One Man One Stump. They find it hilarious.”
But she says she fully trusts Christie – who has over 900 followers on his public Instagram account although only counts around 200 of them as people he knows. However, it’s a different story when it comes to Maisie.
Nicola confessed: “We’ve had to ban Maisie from going on any social media because we found out she’d been sending nasty messages to one of her friends on Instagram. I really do think it’s worse with girls as they can be a lot meaner. And now it doesn’t stop once they leave the school gates. And they’re so obsessed with how they look. Maisie would post lots of selfies with her wearing make-up and posing which anyone could see. But because of the incident on Instagram, we removed her profile and banned it from her phone – she won’t be allowed an account until she is much older.”
Maisie admitted: “I don’t know why I did it. But I do miss Instagram and I’m not allowed on any social media now. It’s hard because all my friends are on it.”
“Social media is like the Wild West. My biggest fear is strangers getting in touch – you never know who’s out there” – Tarin Smillie, mum of Bleu, 12
While Tarin Smillie is proud of her open and honest relationship with her 12-year-old son, Bleu, when it comes to social media, she compares it to the Wild West and admits she’s in constant fear about what could happen to him.
“I worry all the time about strangers getting in touch with him,” says Tarin, 36. “Like most kids his age he plays games on his PlayStation 3 where he can play anyone on the internet, so anybody could get in contact. You read headlines about kids getting murdered after meeting someone online who they thought they knew so I tell Bleu not to chat to anyone on there unless it’s a friend or family. The best thing you can do is talk to your children and explain the dangers.”
Tarin, an accountant from Essex, admits she uses Facebook constantly but has no idea about Bleu’s favourite apps – Instagram and Snapchat – and was shocked to discover her son has 648 followers on Instagram.
She adds: “Why are all those people following him? They don’t know him. It’s wrong.”
But Bleu insists it’s nothing to worry about, adding: “One of my friends has got 1,000 followers.”
He explains: “On Instagram, most people keep their accounts public and it doesn’t matter. I don’t know a lot of the people who are following me, probably less than 250. But lots of them are friends of friends. Snapchat is for friends only, so I post more on Snapchat than I do Instagram. I only post about once a month on Instagram but quite a few times a day on Snapchat.”
Tarin – who was unaware Instagram users have to be 13 and over – says she monitors what Bleu is doing as she can see what he’s doing on the computer as it’s in the family living room, and will go through his phone if she thinks there’s been any problems.
Bleu reveals: “I tell mum quite a bit and when this girl started texting nasty things to me and I texted bad things back, she made me block her and not be friends with her again.”
Tarin adds: “Bleu can get nasty when he argues with people at school so I just step in and make sure he blocks anyone he gets into arguments with. I think it’s a massive worry for kids who are being cyberbullied because there’s no getting away from it. They can block it but there are vicious people out there – just nasty.”
“Any platform with a chat function, messaging or comments is a bit of a worry” – Ben Atherton, dad of James, 11.
Like most parents, Ben Atherton has concerns over his children using social media and won’t let his 11-year-old son James have a Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat profile.
“I think Snapchat is the one that worries me the most. As your history is deleted so quickly and can be misused,” the dad-of-two reveals. “I think he’s too young at the moment and it’s more what other people would do.”
And while James would like an Instagram account because one of his best friends is on there, he’s happy playing online games and uploading videos to his YouTube account.
He says: “I play games online and I use the chat function on them. I have a YouTube account, so I like and watch videos and upload videos – mainly of me playing FIFA.”
But dad Ben, 41, admits: “I think any platform with a chat function, messaging or comments is a bit of a worry. You do worry that someone will post something that may upset him.
“But we’ve set out some good rules on what’s appropriate to share. We talked about if someone did something you would tell a teacher or an adult. I worry more about what other people post rather than James.”
Although Ben – a Client Director, who lives in Reading, Berks – has made James aware of the dangers of sharing out any contact details, his number was once passed around without James knowing.
James reveals: “I have a friend who loves sharing and she shared my number to someone outside of school and I have no idea who that is. So she was giving out my number to random people.”
Ben adds: “It turned out it was only a friend of a friend but it looked like a stranger when the first message came through and you can never be too careful. Just like when you need to know whose house your children are going round to after school, you need to know what they are doing in their digital lives.”
“I post pics on Snapchat every day – but mum always checks the photos first to make sure they’re suitable” – Constance Bauer, aged 14
Fourteen-year-old Constance Bauer uses social media to keep up to date with what her friends are up to. She has 160 followers on Instagram and 30 on Snapchat.
She said: “Me and my friends only use Instagram and Snapchat. We’ve never had any bad experiences or bullying. We just use it to to keep in contact. I never post anything degrading or negative – my mum makes sure by checking to see if they’re suitable before I send them.”
She added: “I go on Snapchat every day but I don’t make any of my photos public. I only send them directly to my friends. On Snapchat there’s ‘Your Story” which shows you all the pictures of your day, but I don’t use that. I just like to check other people’s photos.”
Her mum Catherine says she checks Constance’s Instagram page on a regular basis and believes she is secure talking to her mates on it.
However, unlike more than 90% of teens her age using social media, there is one site Constance will not be able to go on in the near future – Facebook.
Salesperson Catherine, 45, of Kingston, Surrey, said: “I worry about people trying to contact Constance. I don’t want her on Facebook yet. It seems less private. Me and my husband are quite old-fashioned and I’m anti-Facebook. I didn’t want her to have Instagram. But she never posts anything negative, you know – she doesn’t post horrible comments. The first thing I said to her was don’t put up anything bad. And I said I want her to report to me straight away if someone says anything horrible or criticises her.”
But Catherine – who doesn’t use social media herself but can have access to Constance’s accounts if she needs to – says she could do with more help when it comes to setting parental controls on her WiFi, phone or tablet.
She confessed: “I don’t know anything about this. I don’t know to do it, to tell you the truth. I don’t know how to do it on the phone. I’ve never been told how to do it. I also have an 11-year-old son and if he wants to play games, I look over to check what he’s doing. But I don’t know how to set up parental controls on the phone, iPad, computer so this is something I need to learn more about.”
“My kids would end up getting bullied if they weren’t on social media” – Claire Smith, mum of Charlie, 13, Lyra, 11, and seven-year-old Miller
Claire Smith knows all too well about not fitting in at school. When she was growing up her parents were so strict they banned her from watching the TV shows or reading the trendy magazines her friends were all talking about.
This is one of the reasons she allows her eldest two children, Charlie, 13, and Lyra, 11, to have more freedom and engage with social media.
She said: “They’re at an age now where all their friends are on social media, so I feel if I stop my two having it, they’d get picked on for not having it. I don’t want that. It’s just a way of the world and I hope I’ve taught my children how to use it properly. I’m a big Twitter fan, I have over 13,000 followers, so it would be a bit hypocritical to say they couldn’t use social media.”
Claire says she will regularly check her kids’ social media usage – which involves Instagram, Snapchat and Musicality – and had to step in when she found out Lyra had been fibbing to her friends on a few occasions.
“One time I saw that she told one of her friends about the whereabouts of her real dad,” revealed Claire, a stay-at-home mum from Bedfordshire. “As far as I know, her real dad lives at home with us and always has!”
Lyra said: “I don’t know why I decided to say that. It’s just a bit of fun. I wasn’t really thinking. I don’t mean it.”
Claire, 42, also had to step in when her son Charlie was the subject of a rude Snapchat photo that was circulated around by one of his friends.
She admitted: “One of Charlie’s friends drew a rude object [a penis] on a picture of him and sent it around on Snapchat. He was devastated and terrified everyone would see it. But that’s the way of the world we live in now, teasing and everything takes place online.”
Claire – who also has seven-year-old son Miller – found out because an upset Charlie had told her after he’d seen it go round on Snapchat and she had to speak to the parents of the boy who did. And although it took place out of school, Claire says the school was very good when dealing with it.
“They were great and made sure the image was deleted and not sent round again,” she said. “When it comes to social media, the schools are very involved especially if any online bullying takes place.”
“I was so angry, I took Snapchat off her and now she has limited friends on there” – Gail Partridge, mum of Zoe, 11
Gail Partridge knows all about the dangers of social media but insists she doesn’t worry about it too much because daughter Zoe’s school is so clued up.
“The school is really good at giving safety talks. A police officer comes in every two weeks to chat to them about what to post and gives advice,” she reveals.
Zoe explains further: “We get told never to put our full name, age or the school we go to. It’s important to keep that information private.”
Although Zoe – who is on Snapchat, Instagram and Musicality – checks her smartphone first thing in the morning, Gail does not think the amount of time she spends chatting to friends online is an issue.
“We have quite an open relationship when it comes to social media and I know all of Zoe’s passwords,” adds Gail. However, there was incident on Snapchat, which saw Gail ban her daughter from it for a while.
“I wasn’t happy with what one of her friends had posted,” Gail, a consultant from Sterling, Scotland. “I know it wasn’t Zoe but I was really angry and took Snapchat off her. One, because I didn’t really understand Snapchat and, two, the girl’s behaviour was inappropriate. “And Zoe didn’t have Snapchat for a good while after that. Now she has a very small group of friends on there now. She has four friends on that. And that’s fine.”
Zoe admits that although there is pressure on young people to join social media sites, she is a fan.
“I think it’s more positive than negative,” she explains. “I enjoy being on there and I know what is right and what is wrong.”
Gail agrees, adding: “For me it’s great. I love it. It’s an interesting one as when I was growing up we didn’t have phones. You have more insight into the friendship and see what they’re doing. I like it that Zoe can message her friends at night. I think for learning it’s good. Obviously I worry about things like grooming and sexting, but Zoe is quite wise and we speak about it.”