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Helping children to use social media safely

by Jocy Levy on July 27, 2016

Social media is one of the most popular developments in technology among young people today; to say it’s a powerful tool is an understatement. However, like anything, it does not come without challenges and potential pitfalls. In light of this, ensuring that children present themselves in a safe and sensible manner whilst online is crucial.

It is increasingly important for children to consider the way they are representing themselves through their online profiles and when interacting in the digital world. After all, social media profiles and general online activity are a reflection of a person, and because choices made online are open to judgement by all, it may affect their reputation with family, friends and even potential employers.

Without the appropriate education, children and young people may not be fully aware of the implications of their online behaviour. Pupils need to consider that their behaviour is public and may negatively affect their reputation with people offline. This process of educating children on the safe usage of social media is vital as despite restrictions being put in place by most websites and apps, many young people are still finding ways around these barriers.

Social media sites such as Twitter and Instagram ban under-13s, whilst Whatsapp sets its age limit at 16 years. However, despite this, a survey by CBBC Newsround earlier this year found that more than three-quarters of children aged 10 to 12 in the UK have social media accounts, even though they are below the age limit.

  1. Identifying possible threats

Online bullying is perhaps the most commonly cited concern for children and young people using social media sites. However, there are other threats becoming increasingly evident online. For example, in recent years, the increase in social media use for radicalisation and extremism purposes. Since the new Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 came into effect, schools (and other authorities) are obliged to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism including online recruitment. Not only this, but Ofsted inspectors will also want to see your school’s approach to keeping children safe from the dangers of radicalisation and extremism. Otherwise, you may be subject to regulatory action.

  1. Privacy management

It’s a good idea to encourage children to think about who might be viewing their profile and how the information they post on social media sites may be interpreted by different audiences. Most social media profiles like Facebook will allow users to limit the content seen by different groups of people and even dictate exactly what these groups have access to. Content can then be more carefully managed, for example, sharing particular photos or information only with a list of “close friends”.

     3.  Reporting inappropriate content

Make sure that children are aware that they can play an important role in blocking inappropriate content found online. It is imperative that young people know the appropriate reporting routes for each platform so that they can request offensive material to be removed by the poster or platform provider. They should also be aware of the procedure for deactivating and deleting their social media accounts, so that when they stop using them, their information can be removed from the site.

  1. Use online resources

There are a variety of useful, free resources available online, provided by experts such as the UK Safer Internet Centre (UKSIC) that will help you to better understand the social media sites that children use and how they might be using them. This helpful guide outlines the safety features available on each of the most popular sites so that teachers, parents and carers can help to safeguard their children or pupils online: http://www.saferinternet.org.uk/advice-and-resources/parents-and-carers/safety-tools-on-online-services/social-networks

Online safety is not only the responsibility of parents and carers, but also the children themselves. It is just as important that children and young people use social networks appropriately and understand the potentially serious implications of inappropriate use. After all, being ‘digitally literate’ is a huge part of a child’s development into adult life and a fundamental skill for life after education.

Topics: Child safety, Social media