A Little More Conversation

23 May 2017

For parents, it’s difficult enough trying to protect children in the real world; let alone the online world.

New social media sites pop up frequently and crazes come and go. You may not know what your children are up to online and even if you know what sites or apps they are on, there’s a good chance you will not understand what it is they’re doing. 

Parents are right to be concerned about their children’s relationship with the internet. Children now spend over three hours a day online, with over two thirds have their own devices and three quarters have access to the internet in their bedroom. With the extra time spent online, and out of sight, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ensure children are safe online and not putting themselves at risk. 

70% of young people have been a victim of cyber-bullying and a recent NSPCC survey found 80% of children do not feel that social media is doing enough about bullying and inappropriate content.

One craze which swept through schools recently was the website sayat.me, which was marketed as a business feedback website. Teenagers were signing up to this, putting their sayat.me profile on other social media accounts and their classmates could then anonymously comment on them. It’s not hard to see how it was used by some children to bully others and it has very recently been linked to a teenager’s suicide.

There are some things which won’t change. Teenagers want approval from their peers and if you tell them not to do something, they will want to do it more. People who can hide behind anonymity will always feel they can get away with saying things they would never dream of saying to someone’s face.

It isn’t the technology which is the biggest problem, or the biggest risk. As with most things, it’s the people using it. So what can parents do to help protect their children? 

The easiest way to do this is to have a conversation with them and educate them on the risks which they might be creating for themselves now and later down the line. These conversations should be open and non-judgmental so that children can be honest about how they are using social media without fearing that they will have their phones or tablets taken off them. These conversations should cover:

  1. Privacy and data: Putting personal information and photographs online or sharing it on social media does mean you lose control over it. You don’t know who is seeing it, what they are doing with it or who it is being shared with.
  2. Hacking: More information in public can increase the risk of you getting hacked. If you are hacked, messages, information and photographs you haven’t put online can be taken and put online or shared by someone else.
  3. Digital Footprint: All children now grow up in public. Anything they put online could be available for ever. How would you explain that embarrassing photograph or comment at a job interview in ten years?
  4. Consequences: Even if a website/app claims to be anonymous, it might still be possible to prove who said something. With the tragic consequences which can follow cyber-bullying, explaining the impact which online behaviour can have – especially as this cannot always be seen – is important.
  5. Speak up: If you’re having open conversations with your children, they will be more likely to turn to you when something is amiss, rather than try to keep it hidden. They should be encouraged to speak up and understand the latest website or app.

Having these conversations regularly with your children will ensure not only that they remain alert to the risks they face now and in the future, it will also give parents the best chance of keeping up with the ever changing face of social media.

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About the Author

Ben Hobbs


Ben specialises in reputation protection. His work covers defamation, privacy, harassment and intellectual property rights.

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