These days we all use social media in some form; you may have clicked through to this blog from Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. It is now a constant in all of our lives, and the same can be said for the young people in our care. Which is why watching The Social Dilemma recently got the team thinking about ways that we can ensure that young people can use social media platforms (for many it’s a form of social life) without experiencing mental harm.
If you haven’t seen The Social Dilemma, it is a film documentary which looks into the various harmful aspects of social media, and some of them are quite worrying. Despite using statistics from the USA, the documentary states that since the rise in social media and smart phone ownership, the rise in non-fatal self-harm in girls aged between 10 and 14 rose by 189%, and the rise for 15-19 year old girls was 62%. More worryingly, the suicide rates for 10-14 year old girls rose 151% and for girls aged 15-19, 70%. Pew research published in 2018 discovered that 45% of 13-17 year olds consider themselves to be constantly online, and 97% use at least one type of social media platform, so there are some significant risks for young people who haven’t been educated in how to use social media and the internet correctly.
Before we all rush to grab the smart phones that the teenagers in our homes are undoubtedly sitting staring at, we need to remember that social media is here to stay. There will always be search engines and new ways to communicate, so it’s a better idea to educate the children we look after about safe and responsible social media use. Teaching them that while there are benefits to having digital media literacy which include staying connected to friends and family, and levels of creativity connected to creating online content, there are also risks, is the first step.
Sitting down and having a conversation about the risks of social media is an excellent way to begin ensuring that they are safe online. Aside from making sure that they know not to share personal information with strangers, and that sometimes they might be tagged in pictures or stories that are embarrassing, it’s also important to push home the idea that it can be very difficult to distinguish between truth and lies on the internet.
At this point, it’s also a good idea to find out what social media platforms they use. This should include messaging apps like WhatsApp, Snapchat and TikTok. Let them understand that it’s not because you’re snooping, you just want to understand what they’re talking about if a problem arises.
It’s not just children and teens who are addicted to their phones these days, adults can be too. So, setting up a family media plan can help you all work together to ensure that you are all digitally responsible citizens. The plan can be tailored to suit your family and its specific needs, and gives a good reference point should you need to question social media or internet use. It also provides you with the opportunity to be a role model.
It’s not really something that any parent or carer wants to consider, but there is an increasing trend of young people sending explicit images to each other, also known as ‘Sexting’. Aside from the legal implications, it’s illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to possess, share or send explicit images of themselves, there is also the risk of harmful consequences such as bullying or humiliation.
Thatsnotcool.com is an excellent online resource aimed at teens, which even includes an app that they can do challenges on to get ‘the respect effect’. It also includes a section for adults, which has a huge range of resources available.
By becoming more open and involved, it makes it easier for a young person to approach you if they are suffering from cyberbullying or are concerned about their mental health as a result of being online. Our blog on bullying also has a number of tips to make it easier to talk to you.