If you were asked to list items that make children unsafe, what would you say? Obviously, many parents would create an unending list of dangerous toys, strangers, bullies, and safety concerns hiding in our homes and flats. After all, we have read the dangers about choking hazards, toys made with lead paint, and unsafe children’s jewellery.
However, there is a surprising threat to our sons and daughters many of us overlook: the digital world and social media. Yes, our kids’ beloved mobile phones, devices, games, and computers are putting them at risk for a variety of issues. These effects can range anywhere from predators, online pressures, and mental wellbeing.
In fact, researchers are finding that online pressures are causing our children to experience unhappiness which can’t simply be deleted or ignored. These pressures can exacerbate vulnerabilities in our kids often causing anxiety or depression to surface. As parents and caregivers, we owe it to our boys and girls to take a few moments and examine the role social media and digital technology is playing in our kids’ lives, safety, and overall well-being.
A Misleading Measurement of Self Worth
Recent findings found the pressures directly linked to social media are actually harming our kids’ self-esteem and confidence. According to ChildLine, a counselling service for adolescents, today’s children in Britain are dealing with fears and worries that were non existent 30 years ago. This has led to unhappy kids across the UK and world. It appears that modern technology is causing undue stress and unhappiness from FOMO (fear of missing out), cyberbullying, expectations linked to the number of online friends, overvaluing peer feedback online, and more.
As our sons and daughters turn more and more to social media for the majority of peer communication, they are measuring their value in life based on their social media presence. Children are extremely aware of who has liked their posts, commented, or shared their photos. They even pay attention to who was left out of a photo or tag. Our kids are using social media as a way to measure popularity and this directly ties to a child’s self-image or how they value themselves as an individual.
As parents, we simply can’t ban Snapchat or Instagram. It’s important for us to acknowledge how our kids utilize social media, because technology is here to stay. By doing this, we can begin the first steps for empowering our kids to avoid problems commonly associated with online pressures.
10 Essential Tips for Teaching Online Safety
To compound this growing unhappiness, it’s estimated that 70 percent of our children take measures to hide their online activity from us. Typically, this involves dimming screens, shrinking windows, or using fake apps on smartphones or devices. With all of this secrecy, it is important for us to make sure we are teaching our kids how to protect themselves online and open the communication lines within our families.
Listed below are some essential strategies for encouraging online safety:
- Teach the do’s and don’ts of social media etiquette early.
- Consider reducing the amount of time they spend online. On average, kids spend 9 hours every day consuming media.
- Children should only friend people they actually know.
- Never share passwords.
- Encourage them to tell an adult if they encounter anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.
- Let kids know it is alright to say no to sexting.
- Avoid sharing personal details like class schedules, addresses, places they frequent, or their plans.
- Help set privacy settings.
- If a child encounters cyberbullying, make sure to open all messages together and document each message.
- Remind children the Internet never forgets. Anything, even disappearing messages, can be retrieved.
- Create a family technology contract clearly outlining all expectations and consequences for using devices or social media.
Communication and Set Boundaries are Key
We can monitor and ban apps, but the real key to helping our kids overcome online pitfalls is to start an ongoing dialogue about the dangers they may encounter. This conversation can use news headlines, stories in the media, or personal reflections to help them wrap their head around many of the dangers they can’t understand. We should always convey that we trust them, it is just the other people online that we don’t. After all, we don’t want our kids feeling attacked or like we don’t value them.
We need to reassure our sons and daughters that their self-worth should not be tied to social media. We should look for ways to help them base their self-esteem on their actions toward other people, how they perform in activities, and how responsible they behave in the real world. To prevent unhappiness, children need to realize that a “Like” isn’t anything special and valuing social media pursuits will always leave us feeling empty.
Amy Williams is a freelance journalist based in Southern California and mother of two. As a parent, she enjoys spreading the word on positive parenting techniques in the digital age and raising awareness on issues like cyberbullying and online safety. @AmyKWilliams1