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When it comes to keeping children safe on social media, the obvious things that can come to mind may be things such as making sure your child doesn’t give their address or location to strangers, and making sure there are filters on their phones so they cannot access explicit content.
But really, keeping children safe involves so much more than that. If the recent alarm bells that have been set off for parents by the discovery that the SimiSimi app became massively popular teaches us anything, it teaches us that:
1. Keeping children safe is about so much more than not disclosing your location to strangers
2. We need to know what apps our young people are downloading
3. We need to be aware of how completely differently young people approach and use social media compared to us adults.
When young people start out on their social media journey for the first time, they are generally at the beginning stages of adolescence and one of the things about that age group is that they are at a very particular level of psychological development which will link in to how they feel and how they behave on social media.
Young people are at a totally different stage of psychological development to adults. This is one aspect of social media parenting that parents need to become familiar with and it is one of the aspects of social media parenting that I cover in my book (see details below).
Parents today have only ever experienced social media as an adult and so one of the things that can be difficult for parents is to really understand what it is like for their child to be on a social media site. The way the child will think, their ability to see things in an abstract, complex way, it is all highly compromised because their level of psychological development is at a less advanced stage than us adults.
Children are highly sensitive to feedback from others, they can get hooked into the positive feedback and feel overwhelmed with negative emotions when they experience mean comments online. Young people need to know how to manage to stay well in this type of environment because no-one is immune to the possibility of negative comments coming their way.
When it comes to predators and how to keep children safe from them, there needs to be awareness about how children are not yet able to fully grasp the idea that if someone says something nice to them, they may actually mean harm.
No matter how many times you say to a child that someone may mean them harm, they will never have the same level of complex understanding that an adult has because their mind is not as developed as the mind of the adult. Children think in more simplistic ways and so they are more vulnerable to risk.
For that reason, parents need to understand how to prepare young people for social media and keep them safe online, from the inside out. Part of that means tuning in to their confidence source.
A Tip for Parents- Know How Your Child Sources Confidence Before Ever they Go On Social Media and then Keep a Check on It
One thing that parents can do to help keep their children safe online is to talk to their child before ever they go onto social media sites about the fact that everyone sources confidence from two places, a source inside themself and a source outside of themself.
Once online, if the internal source of confidence is not big enough (that is the confidence that comes from saying to yourself things such as ‘I did my best’ or ‘I don’t need to look a certain way in order to be of worth’, young people can quite quickly become hooked into needing feedback in the form of ‘likes’ from others in order to feel good.
In my book, I outline exercises that parents can do with their child, to increase this internal confidence source. A source of confidence that is inside the young person is one of the key components of good mental health throughout adolescence.
All sorts of things can go wrong for young people on social media. From cyber-bullying to dealing with the fallout of apps such as SimiSimi to the pressure to send sexualised images, to the seeming need to be ‘plugged in’ all the time; parents are only too well aware of the myriad of pressures their children can face online and parents want to keep their children safe. It is absolutely possible to feel empowered around this issue of social media parenting, once you are armed with the right tools. Information is power.
‘Keeping Your Child Safe on Social Media: Five Easy Steps’ by psychologist and writer Anne McCormack is available nationwide.