Internet Matters expert panel share their thoughts about how the pandemic is shaping children’s online identity and social interactions.
As we think about how to make the internet safer, we should also think about how this pandemic has changed the relationship many, especially young people, have with social media. It is now often the only source of entertainment or communication with anyone outside of our own households.
Children are extremely susceptible to undue influence as they explore the world and try to establish their own identities. As social media gains traction, it is very easy for young people to be consumed by what seems ‘popular’ or assuming that everyone is a ‘friend’, particularly when children cannot go outside to experience the ‘real world’. The latter is even more problematic for younger children, who have even less awareness of how unrealistic the online world is. It is therefore vital to protect children from online dangers.
Parents can begin with setting strong security settings on their internet. Beyond this, a long-term approach is needed. We must teach our children about online safety, the importance of maintaining privacy, and what to be wary of. For some, technology is an unknown entity, and that is ok; there are plenty of sources of help, like this site. The Web GuardiansTM programme by JAN Trust, for example, empowers mothers to protect their children from online dangers.
COVID-19 has changed all of our lives in some way and this is definitely true with regards to the internet and social media. For obvious reasons most of us will find that we are spending more and more time online, particularly during this current lockdown.
For children and young people, it is the only way for them to keep in touch with friends and have those all-important interactions and times to socialise and catch up. That said, many are struggling to find the balance – they want to socialise with school friends but when they have had online classes all day, for some, they find it hard to then immediately move into another online space with friends. Indeed many young people talk about dual-screening during lessons – they are connected to their class but are also having a parallel conversation with friends or watching some other (non-school related) content online.
Social media is often a place where we share the polished, edited highlights of our lives, somewhere to celebrate the best but also to seek comfort in difficult times. Many young people will experiment with their identity on these platforms and use the relative anonymity to push boundaries and test the reactions of others to things that they might do or say. Sadly there can often be a significant difference between the things that individuals would say or do in the offline world and what can happen online. We can lose our inhibitions online and sometimes behave in a way that we just wouldn’t if we were standing in front of someone.
Social media can undoubtedly influence all of us – sometimes for the better but absolutely not always. The shocking abuse of premier league footballers and the trolling of Captain Tom and his family in recent days is testament to that. What is clear is that what we say and do online forms an increasing part of our online reputation and the internet doesn’t easily forget! Sitting in the comfort of our living room on a Saturday evening, making a comment on social media is very easy but can sometimes have long-lasting and unintended consequences.
With limited interaction prohibited during the lockdown children turn to social media to keep in touch with their friends. The current restriction on movement can have a detrimental impact on people’s mental health. Thus, social network platforms have become increasingly important in helping children to be socially connected.
Hobbies and interests have also moved to virtual events where possible. Many children actively play multiplayer video games or trying exercise classes online. These are then being shared on social media.
With the rise of social media platforms like TikTok many young users are sharing creativity on the platform. It is natural to expect that the number of contents that would be shared online would increase during the lockdown.
While social media can be a useful tool for keeping people united, it can also have negative effects on children, depending on the content they are exposed to. Hence, parents should always check in with their children and get to know how they are feeling. Even more so now during the lockdown.
Also, as young users share more content online, it is important to not forget that this will shape their online identity. It is always good practice to be wary of everything that is being posted online. Share positivity. For example, many children are using their time during lockdown to fundraise for a cause they believe in.
While social media can be a crucial lifeline during the pandemic, it is still recommended to have moderate digital consumption. Following the guidelines try to encourage children to at least spend a certain amount of time doing outdoor activities. For younger children encourage exciting Zoom sessions with their friends. Also, avoid using screen time before bedtime and be intentional with the content that they watch online.
See more articles and resources to help children stay safe online.