Our children love the internet – but new reports have found that they’re increasingly focused on regaining the privacy that the big networks have taken away from them. Now, before you start cheering, it’s important to remember that teens have different views on what privacy means – and migrating to private networks may not make them safer.
What Networks Are Teens Using?
WhatsApp is a major player across all of Europe – and this follows a pattern we’ve been seeing, where users in particular geographic regions tend to be more heavily invested in one particular network. However, one key to note here is that WhatsApp is still focused on being a communications tool – and plans to stay that way – even as many other social networks try to do everything for the user.
Image sharing networks like Instagram and Snapchat are also remaining popular as teens continue to use images to enhance their communication with others.
What Are The Risks Of Social Media?
Social media is not an inherently bad tool, but it does have a number of drawbacks that parents should be aware of.
- Cyberbullying: A major survey published in 2013 found that more than seven in ten children were victims of cyberbullying – one of the highest rates ever recorded. A single bullying incident is unlikely to be permanently traumatizing, but the report also found that over a third of children experienced cyberbullying on a “highly frequent” basis. The conclusion was that over one million children in the U.K. were subjected to extreme cyberbullying on a daily basis. The severity and prevalence of this problem means that responsible parents cannot afford to ignore it.
- Catfishing: This term is used to refer to relationships where one of the members is using a false persona solely for the sake of forming a relationship. Some people do this to feel better about themselves, but others are specifically trying to trick and hurt someone else.
- Employability: Most employers take a social media presence very seriously indeed – and what teens post now will be taken as evidence of their personal character. Unfortunately, many teens don’t think long-term when it comes to the content they’re sharing, and that can have a major impact on the rest of their life.
- Education: Technology can certainly be used to enhance education – but it should not be allowed in classrooms (or while children are doing homework) without explicit permission from the teacher. Teens who are thinking about their latest notifications aren’t paying attention to their studies, and this can have a snowball effect that significantly reduces their grades.
- Addiction: Social media is so easy to use – and often so pervasive – that it’s easy to get addicted to it and worry about being separated from what’s going on. The only real way to stop this is to deny access to social media outside of times you specify – when it’s a smaller part of their life, it’s easier to avoid (or break free from) addiction.
How To Keep Your Children Safe
Social media is unquestionably dangerous when its capabilities are abused – which makes it just like everything else in the world. Teens don’t need to completely stop using it – indeed, lacking a presence on social media can be just as harmful as having outrageous content – but they shouldn’t be posting content with no thought to the future.
As always, the key to safe usage of social media is education. The more teens know about what they’re doing and how it could impact them in the future, the more likely they are to make smart decisions.
However, do not try and relate problems to your view of how the world should be. As we talked about in the introduction to this article, teens don’t see issues like privacy in the same way we do, and you have to focus on what matters to them if you want them to change their behaviour.
About the Author
Amy Williams is a free-lance 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.