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Future proof: could your child’s social media use put them at risk?

3 minutes

Social media and the Internet play a huge role in our children’s lives – but how can we help them act safely online?

  • A quarter of 8 to 11-year-olds have a social media profile – a figure that’s much higher for teens
  • Oversharing can reveal valuable information about your home and your identity
  • Teach your kids to think twice to stay safe online

Exploring the risks and opportunities of social media on children

According to Ofcom, almost a quarter of 8-11-year-olds and three-quarters of 12-15-year-olds have a social media profile, whether that’s Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram or another of the many channels on offer. [1]

What are the risks of oversharing on social media?

Predictably, what they see on these channels isn’t always positive. Ofcom reports that 17% of 8-11s and 29% of 12-15-year-olds say they have seen something online that they have found worrying or nasty, 45% of 12-15-year-olds say they have seen hateful content online in the last year, and one in ten 12-15-year-olds have seen something online or on their phone of a sexual nature that made them feel uncomfortable. On top of this, more than one in ten 12-15-year-olds say they have been bullied on social media . [2]

“We've been doing some research with students at the University of Edinburgh and we've been asking them to tell us how they use social media and how they think about their identity online,” says Nicola Osborne, programme manager for Creative Informatics. “61% of them very rarely check their privacy settings, and 11% said they had been tagged in an unwanted way in a photograph.”

What online activities could put your child’s security – plus that of your own and your home – at risk? And what can you do as a parent to protect your child from the downsides of using social media? Let’s find out.

Keeping your family home and identity safe

“Every three seconds somebody suffers from identity theft online because of cybercrime,” points out Rob May, cybersecurity expert and managing director of IT consultancy Ramsac. “Lots of people invest in traditional security – in a hardware firewall, in software protection, in email filtering and so on. But the biggest risk is that every day you are unwittingly giving information.”


We’re so used to sharing information on social media that even many adults don’t think twice about ‘checking in’ on Facebook when they’re away from home, revealing where and when they’re going on holiday, or posting photos of their house and tagging its location. The app Foursquare even allows your contacts to track exactly where you are in real-time. But all these things are Internet safety no-nos.

Experts also suggest not posting the following information online or on social media:

 

  • Your location
  • Your full birthday
  • Your email and home address
  • Where you go to school
  • Photos of expensive possessions
  • Personal information about friends and family

“We need to educate our children and teach them to be sceptical,” suggests Rob. “Teach them not to be so trusting. And if you get an email or a phone call and the alarm bells start ringing and it feels just too good to be true, then it probably is.”

One eye on the future

“Your presence online is part of your professional identity,” says Nicola. “So, the stuff that you're sharing now, that you share every day, can have long-term consequences. A lot of trainee teachers have found that pictures of them drinking – not drinking underage, just drinking – when they were in their 20s have been enough to impact on their employment potential.”

She suggests encouraging your children to think 10 years ahead: “What does the digital footprint of stuff that you are leaving now say about you? Is it saying the right things? Because we will all have a history of us recorded in lots of different places.”

What else can you do to protect your child online?

The UK Council for Internet Safety recommend taking the following steps with your child to help them behave safely online:

 

  • Ask them to show you which social media apps they use and what they like about them.
  • Explain how they can use privacy settings to ensure only real-life friends see their posts and images.
  • Check if any of their apps have ‘geo-location’ enabled, sharing their location unintentionally.
  • Show them how to report offensive comments or block people who upset them.
  • Check ‘tagging’ settings so that when others are posting or sharing photos online, your child’s identity is not revealed. Also, ask your child to get peoples’ consent before sharing photos.
  • Encourage your child to come and talk to you if they see anything that upsets them.

Conclusion

“We need to think more deeply about the balance between the online risks and the online opportunities, because on all sides I'm hearing increasing panic about the risks for our children on the Internet and I don't think we're giving enough priority to developing some of the benefits,” says Sonia Livingstone, professor of social psychology at the London School of Economics.

 

“Research tells us that in the years that we've been coming to terms with having the internet as fundamental in our lives there's been no overall, long-term changes in any of the childhood troubles and difficulties that children encounter. No real changes in childhood abductions, abuse, accidental deaths or mental health problems.”

 

So perhaps the take-home message should be that it’s important to remember that social media and the Internet offer both risks and opportunities. Hopefully, the ideas in this article will help you navigate that balance along with your children.

 

Sources

[1] [2] Ofcom, 2017. Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report. https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/108182/children-parents-media-use-attitudes-2017.pdf