Each generation of parents has their own unique battle to face: A new, emerging danger to their children. It’s a battle they need to win, for the sake of the next generation of parents, and the next after that.
70+ years ago it was road safety.
30+ years ago it was TV censorship.
15+ years ago it was internet pornography.
Today, our battle is Social Media.
First of all, let’s take a moment to think about how much Social Media has improved, even revolutionised our lives. It’s changed the way the world works, forever.
The problem is, like most game-changing phenomena, it has a dark and dangerous underbelly. And the most vulnerable are our children.
The presence of social media in all of our lives is growing on an almost daily basis. It’s essential that we’re hyperaware of its risks, so that we can protect younger generations.
1. Cyberbullying can be devastating
Sure, you’ll have heard about cyberbullying before, but you might not know just how frightening, and vicious, it can be.
Unfortunately, cyberbullying has long evolved beyond sending abusive Facebook messages, or a nasty WhatsApp.
It’s become common practice for bullies to pose as friends, and trick their victims into making a very personal revelation, or saying something critical about somebody else. As soon as their victim presses send, the bully takes a screenshot, and tries to send the picture as far and wide as possible.
Every child and teenager should be aware that this happens more often than anybody would expect, and to restrict any personal-talk to a private, face to face interaction.
(Is your child being bullied? Check out the post we wrote on the subject.)
2. There’s a new level of stranger-danger
Thankfully, nowadays, most children are super-aware of the dangers posed to them by strangers in the street.
In the online world, though, things aren’t quite as simple.
It’s easy to forget that when a minor goes onto social media, they are literally reachable by just about every other human being on the planet.
They might not think they’re in any immediate danger: After all, it’s in cyberspace – not the real world.
That, however, would be a big oversight. Most children (and parents) don’t realise the potential implication of…
3. Oversharing and its consequences
Sharing information – location drops, tags in pictures, statuses about hobbies, school timetables, etc. – can eventually create a disturbing breadcrumb trail that leads directly to your child.
Recording just about every moment of our daily lives is in vogue, but it poses a very real danger to minors, and there’s no knowing who might have access to that data.
Sharing the occasional post is fun and sociable. Oversharing, on the other hand, should be actively discouraged. Even the technical data inside uploaded pictures can contain information about the exact location where the picture was taken.
4. Identity theft can happen online
Our Social Media profiles are practically an extension of our own personalities, and it’s no different for our children.
Consider this: our entire identities are only protected by one password. If someone gets that, they’ve got us.
Of course a password is there for a reason, and we’d never give ours out, unless it was to somebody we trust unconditionally.
Don’t expect our children to be so rational. It’s both endearing and worrying that younger people tend to be more trusting, and not have that cynical voice that says ‘I need to watch out for myself, here’.
As a rule, young people should never give out their social media passwords. Not to girlfriends/boyfriends, not to friends, not even to siblings.
Equally, if any bullies create a ‘fake profile’, assuming somebody else’s identity, it must be immediately brought to the attention of the proper authorities.
5. Public shaming is never okay
Public shaming is one of the most rotten and, at times, harrowing side effects of social media.
There are a disturbingly large amount of people out there who feed off others’ misfortune, and will seize on any opportunity to humiliate and exploit another person.
Sometimes we slipped on a puddle and ended up covered in mud. Sometimes we laughed and cola came out of our nose. Sometimes we embarrassingly fell off a swing.
It happens to us all when we’re kids, and it teaches us that it’s okay to laugh at ourselves.
What isn’t okay is having some cruel spectator film the incident, and put it onto cyberspace for other people’s entertainment. If that ever happens to anybody’s child, they should immediately be contacting every authority that they need to, to have that image removed.
The examples I’ve given are at the tame end of the scale. Public shaming can be absolutely brutal.
Every child or teen should know that nobody has the right to put any picture of video of them in the public domain, without their permission.
6. Everything they post will never go away
In the last couple of years, we’ve started to see the first examples of a person’s online history coming back to haunt them as adults.
A lot of us we’re in a lucky generation. If we ever said anything we regretted, we could say sorry and move onwards with our lives. If we ever took a picture we didn’t like, we could just throw it in the bin.
Our children’s generation cannot be so carefree. Everything they post on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. will be recorded. Forever.
It isn’t easy for children to see the bigger picture, sometimes, but they need our help to do so. Their professional futures could depend on it.
7. Online trolls are always cruel
Just as quickly as social media has burst onto the scene, online trolls have come crawling out of the woodwork.
‘Trolls’ are bizarre, slightly wretched, slightly tragic human beings, that grown adults know to ignore and treat with total indifference – they’re not even worth thinking about.
However, for young minds, online trolling can cause real trauma.
As with most things on the internet, we can’t just make them go away. What we can do, though, is raise our children’s awareness.
Explain to them what online trolling is, and let them know that they don’t have to give a single word of it the time of day.
Let them know that all we can do is turn our backs on trolls, and make sure that we’re decent to others, ourselves.
8. They could ‘go viral’
A lot of people think going viral is some sort of 21st century Holy Grail. Hundreds of views, and overnight celebrity.
If you’re an adult, and that’s what you’re looking for, then great. However, every time I see a video of a child or teenager go viral, I cringe.
Suddenly finding themselves exposed to the planet can be overwhelming and potentially damaging for any young person.
A lot of them probably think that’s what they want, without knowing the reality. Parents need to let their children know that they should be careful what they wish for.
Social media is a cornerstone of modern society. Since it first hit the scene it’s grown massively, and won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
Depriving our children all exposure to sites like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram could turn them into social pariahs, and handicap them in the future.
What they need though, like in all other aspects of their lives, is our guidance and help.