How to help your child navigate social media

As summer holidays approach and children have more free time to scroll on their devices, it is important to have conversations with your child around social media & cyber safety.

It’s these questions that keep many parents up at night—how do you raise a safe, healthy child / teen in the age of smartphones and Instagram? In a time where Australian teenagers are spending over 1200 hours on social media each year, finding a balance is important.

Being active on social media can be beneficial for teenagers, providing them with the confidence to express themselves and the opportunity to develop communication skills. With these benefits, however, there is also some risk. Research shows that, when compared to adults, teens are less able to identify dangerous behaviour and are more likely to act impulsively online. It is, therefore, important that teenagers have boundaries, rules and guidance from parents and their School to help them make good decisions.

When approaching the age where your child wants to have a presence on social media, it is important to note that most platforms require you to be at least 13 years old. It is also important to make sure your child is aware of the use / dangers of the platform by asking the following questions:

  • What would you do if you saw something harmful online?

  • How can you tell if an online message or person is safe?

  • Who would you go to if something bad happened to you online?

We encourage parents to discuss healthy online boundaries where children are aware of the risks and understand the depth of their social footprint. Here are five topics to discuss when introducing safe social media boundaries.

Awareness around social footprint

People have a habit of behaving differently online than they do in person with many believing that their device protects them. Consider asking these questions before posting anything online: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? Would I say it in person? How would I feel if somebody else said it? Would I be happy for my parents or teachers to see it? Could it damage my reputation or that of anyone else?

It is also important to remember that your comments can be seen by many people and can leave a lasting impression. Remember that hiding behind a keyboard does not protect you from the repercussion that can result from online bullying or harassment.

Mindfulness around social media influencers

Research conducted by ‘Disrupt Your Feed’ found many positive outcomes from introducing diverse female role models in young students' Instagram feeds. The study, Disrupting the Feed, reported that 93% of girls said their outlook had improved and their horizons had been expanded after following inspirational role models such as Michelle Obama and Emma Watson. Many said their self-esteem had been boosted and others set themselves and achieved higher goals. By following these figures, it altered the girls’ digital footprint and meant they were automatically given a more diverse feed of people and topics.

Respect the privacy of others

While some people find posting embarrassing photographs of their friend amusing, the likelihood is that the friend will not. Be respectful of other people's privacy, always ask for permission and never share photos or information that may humiliate someone. The Toorak College Responsible Use Agreement for School Network, Internet and Digital Technologies requests that students behave in a respectful manner, seek permissions before publishing images, understand their rights and protect the privacy of other students. We recommend reviewing this policy with your daughter at the start of each year.

What you post is permanent

The cyber world is the real world and it has real consequences. More and more we are seeing social media posts coming back to haunt teenagers and it is important to know that even with a private account, schools, universities and future employers can find a trail of anybody’s digital footprint. Social media posts are instant, public and more often than not, permanent. Once you post, it only takes one friend to take a screenshot or share it on their profile for your private post to become public.

It is risky to connect and communicate with strangers

With many people on social media operating through fake personas, it is hard to tell your friends from your foes. We encourage all students to set their social media accounts to private and avoid communicating with accounts in their ‘requested messages’. We strongly encourage students to avoid accepting accounts you are not familiar with, this will ensure your posts are shared with only those who you know and trust.

For further information we recommend the iParent website from the Office of Children's eSafety Commissioner:

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