Both parents and teens need to bear in mind that young people are struggling to make sense of who they are and where they fit in. Their online presence is a vital part of that. Teens may also have a different sense than their parents of where the boundaries lie – but both young people and parents need to be streetwise - being online is not wholly controllable and children and young people need to have the same levels of alertness and judgement that they would in any public place. It’s really important that they know:
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The Digital 5 A Day Campaign provides a simple framework that reflects the concerns of parents/ carers as well as children’s behaviours and needs. It gives children and parents easy to follow, practical steps to achieve a healthy and balanced digital diet.
Children need boundaries to help them grow into respectful, confident and productive adults. Limits help children feel safe and contained, but young people also need freedom to try things out, make mistakes and develop their independence. The boundaries we set help children learn to set limits for themselves and develop their self-discipline.
Boundaries are equally important when it comes to technology. The digital world is so exciting for young people that they’ll probably need your help to manage things like finding a reasonable balance between online and offline time. Some boundaries will be non-negotiable, especially when it comes to the safety of your child and others. Others will be more flexible – you may, for instance, want to set different limits on screen time during exams than over school holidays.
The key things to remember when setting your boundaries are:
Social networking is a massive part of young people’s lives. It can sometimes seem as though apps like Snapchat, Instagram, Vine, Facebook and Twitter take up most of a typical teen’s waking hours.
As a parent, it’s natural to worry about what your child does on social media and the amount of time they spend doing it. If you’re not active on Snapchat yourself, it can be hard to understand the allure of sending and viewing pictures designed to self-destruct. And even if you do use some of the major social networks, it often seems like new ones are popping up every minute.
But so many of the things you’ll have to think about when helping your child enjoy social media are similar to the things you think about in their offline friendships – are they getting too hung up on what other people think? Are their friends pressuring them or undermining their confidence? And of course, there are some specific issues that come with socialising online.
Here are a few tips to help you and your child navigate the world of social media:
Age limits - Most social media has a minimum age - the most common one by far is 13. It’s not necessarily a judgement on how age-appropriate the service is so you might think your child is ready at a younger age, or should wait until they’re even older. Still, it’s important to remember that sites and apps that are 13+ may not have measures in place to protect younger children, or could allow content that’s aimed at an older age group.
Set some ground rules - Especially when your child first starts using social media, it’s a good idea to talk about what is and isn’t allowed. For instance, you might be happy for your child to have a Facebook account, but only want them to accept friends they know in real life.
Know the tools - Safety tools and privacy settings are an important part of using social media responsibly. Talk to your child about how to find blocking and reporting tools and privacy settings on their favourite apps, and why it's a good idea to use them. Find out more information on setting safety and privacy settings on social media apps.
Comparing yourself to others - We tend to put our best face forward online. No one wants to post pictures of when their weekend away got rained out and they spent the whole time moping indoors. But it’s easy to get a bit down on yourself after scrolling through a feed of pictures of all your friends having a great time. And depending on who your child follows, there might well be some unattainably gorgeous celebrities thrown in for good measure. Your child will need to think critically about what they see on social media and remember that no one is as perfect as their Instagram account would suggest.
What others think about you - Everyone likes to be appreciated and it feels good when friends like or share your posts on social media. It’s also easy for teens and young people to get too preoccupied with what their peers think of them. This natural insecurity plus easily quantifiable measures of popularity, like number of Facebook friends or likes on a selfie, can be a tricky mix. Make sure your child knows you’re always there for them if it ever feels like they’ve got no friends, and remind them of all the things they’re good at and loved for offline. If your child is one of the few with thousands of adoring followers, talk about how no one can please everyone all the time. It’s risky to tie your sense of self too closely to other people’s opinions.
Bullying - Some people do use social media specifically to bully others. Whether it’s cruel comments on pictures, nasty messages or a dedicated hate group, online bullying can be very hurtful and can feel harder to escape than offline bullying. Fortunately, just about all the major social media platforms come with tools for blocking other users and reporting abuse. Find out more information on tackling online bullying. You should also make sure your child knows how – and how not – to treat other people online. Something that seems like a harmless joke to one group of friends could end up really hurting someone else.
Digital footprint - Your children have probably heard it all before, but it’s still important to remind them that what goes online stays online. Making hurtful comments or posting compromising pictures could give people the wrong idea about who they really are, and could even affect their school and work options later in life.
Don’t forget the positives - Your child’s digital footprint doesn’t have to be a risk to be managed. Using social media positively and creatively can help them build an online reputation to be proud of. Lots of worthwhile causes use social media to campaign and raise awareness, and your child can use it to get involved in something they care about. It can also be a useful tool for staying informed, making professional connections and keeping in touch with friends and family.
Stay involved - You don’t have to know about every new app that’s popular with teens but it’s smart to have a general sense of what your child gets up to. You probably want to know where your child goes and what they do with friends in the offline world – it’s the same thing online.
Research by Plymouth University found that 40% of 14-16 year-olds said they had friends who had engaged in this kind of texting.
Most of us made mistakes in our teenage years – that’s part of growing up. However, our mistakes weren’t recorded for ‘safekeeping’! These days, young people record their lives on a minute-by-minute basis. The images they create can be copied, manipulated, posted online and sent to other people in a matter of seconds. Ex-partners have been known to pass on images after a relationship has come to an end, as a means of revenge.
You - or your child - could be breaking the law by taking, holding or sharing indecent images of a minor. And if these images are stored on a family computer, you, as a parent, could be implicated. Any image of a person under-18 sent may constitute an indecent image of a child, in legal terms, and be prosecutable under the Protection of Children Act 1978.
The police are concerned that sex offenders search for these kinds of images and may use them to blackmail the subjects.
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Some people do use social media specifically to bully others. Whether it’s cruel comments on pictures, nasty messages or a dedicated hate group, online bullying can be very hurtful and can feel harder to escape than offline bullying. Fortunately, just about all the major social media platforms come with tools for blocking other users and reporting abuse. Visit www.antibullyingpro.com for more information on tackling online bullying.
Report any usnitable online content (film, still images or even plain text) that your child sees using their mobile phone to your mobile operator. If the mobile operator requires further advice, the query will be passed to the British Board of Film Classification.
If you know or suspect your child has been communicating with an adult online who has tried to do any of the following, report it to CEOP, part of the National Crime Agency:
Sadly, anyone can stumble across online child sexual abuse images and videos if you do, you can make an anonymous and confidential report to the Internet Watch Foundation at www.iwf.org.uk