Social media can be a helpful tool to enable kids to stay in touch with family and friends. While there are many positive benefits to social media use, there are potential risks. As parents, it’s important that you help your son to appreciate the advantages and disadvantages of social media and ensure his online safety.
Today, it is essential that children are comfortable using all forms of digital technology, including social media. Even though we are living in an increasingly digital world, not every young person is equipped to navigate the online world safely and with proper conduct. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Australian teenagers are spending up to 18 hours per week online and 91 percent of teens aged 15 to 19 report using social media. There’s no denying that online and social media use plays a significant role in the lives of today’s youth.
Since its inception, there has been a lot of discussion about the risks associated with social media use. But it’s important to keep things in perspective. We uncover both the pros and cons of social media for youth.
1. Promotes social connection
The main purpose of social networking sites is to facilitate people to socialise, regardless of distance and other barriers. It can have a positive impact on relationships. Young people can make new friends and maintain existing friendships by frequent communication and sharing experiences online. For those teenagers who struggle to make social connections in the physical world, social media can offer a virtual alternative and prevent young people from feeling isolated.
2. Mental health benefits
Social media use stimulates the production of oxytocin which reduces stress levels and promotes feelings of happiness. Online interactions are often much easier than socialising in person – they require little to no emotion and are less demanding. The reward and happiness we receive from likes and positive comments are often the result of very little effort and time. Of course if the comments are negative or the amount of likes deemed too low, it could have a detrimental effect on mental health. In response to consumer feedback, Instagram recently made the number of likes for posts visible only to the profile owner, with plans for Facebook to follow suit. This goes some way to addressing the problem of teens (and people in general) judging their peers on the number of likes they receive for a post, or comparing themselves to others based on number of likes.
3. Provides opportunity for education
Children can watch videos, view pictures and read blogs, many of which have educational benefits. Social networking sites can also facilitate discussion of homework and assignment topics and provide a base for research and fact-finding initiatives.
4. Enhances globalisation
The advent of social media has meant that the world has become smaller. We are no longer bound by geographic borders or physical distance. Teenagers can now easily communicate with people from all over the world and experience all the benefits that exposure to other cultures and ideas brings.
5. Promotes creativity
Many social media tools provide an outlet for creative self-expression. Not only are you able to share work such as photography, film, written works and illustrations, other users can offer comments and feedback which can offer the added benefit of building self-esteem and confidence.
Cyberbullying is the use of technology to bully a person or group with the intent to hurt them socially, psychologically or physically. If a child is the victim of cyberbullying, he or she should seek help immediately. The Kids Helpline is available seven days a week and many schools also offer counselling support.
A video game designed specifically for the classroom by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner aims to promote digital intelligence and online safety skills among students. Called The Lost Summer, the video game is aimed at 11 to 14-year-olds and can be downloaded for free.
2. Can compromise safety
Unfortunately, social media provides a platform for predators to groom and abuse children. Users are able to create fake profiles and children are at risk of communicating with people who are unknown to them and who might cause them harm. Children should never disclose their personal information and location to any person on social media. Consider ensuring that your child’s social media profiles are set to ‘private.’
Since social media use can generate reward and feelings of happiness so easily, there is a risk that it may become addictive. It can also be very time consuming – teens can waste hours online. Parents should limit screen time and set clear expectations about social media usage.
4. Lack of focus
Social media can also be a distraction. It can divert attention from an activity that your child is supposed to be focusing on, such as study, sporting commitments or assignments. It’s important to ensure your child is maintaining a healthy lifestyle and participating in social activities away from the computer or devices. Removing devices from bedrooms and monitoring social media online usage is also advised.
Social media tools use algorithms to collect personal data such as your date of birth and home address so that advertisers can use that information to target consumers. This can be dangerous because it means your personal information is no longer confidential and teenagers can be exposed to advertising and products that they may not be ready for. There are reports that children as young as five years old have been deceived into spending money without parental permission through games. We recommend turning off the geotagging and Bluetooth apps on devices, using the highest privacy settings and educating your child about protecting their personal information online. Parents can also access a number of online monitoring tools to ensure their child’s online safety.
6. False sense of security
Teens may be inclined to do things on social media that they would not do in public, like post a compromising photo or saying something they would never have the courage to say in person. Teens should be made aware of the impact their digital footprint could have on their future. While it may be difficult for them to think past school, future potential employers could use social media profiles to gain an insight into their personality and personal life. Parents should remind their teens that once they post something publicly, it is there to stay. While anyone can delete their profiles, they never truly disappear, and once an image or thought is posted online you lose control over where it is distributed and shared.
The Children’s eSafety Commission offers some great resources for parents to keep children safe online. We have also outlined a number of recommended social media guidelines to help keep your children safe and happy.
Trinity’s Pastoral Care guidelines focus on the fundamentals of good parenting — providing both care and discipline — enabling boys to grow into self-confident, trustworthy and resilient young men. Combined with an ongoing partnership between the School and home, your son will thrive in a consistent, caring and nurturing environment.
Our Life Skills Programme promotes online safety and is part of a whole of School approach to health and wellbeing that enhances our boys’ capacity to be emotionally resilient and socially competent. Discover how our Pastoral Care guidelines are specifically tailored for the changing needs of adolescent boys, with booklets tailored for each year group from Years 7. Download our Life Skills booklets.