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  • Writer's pictureJunior Oliveira

2023: How safe is the social media world for children nowadays?

Updated: Jan 6

I completely agree that there are many positive outcomes for kids in today's digital world, including expanded opportunities for learning, expression, skills development, connection, etc. Despite the fact that the digital world offers a myriad of opportunities for young ones, there are some risks unique to the digital environment, such as cyberbullying, online predators, technology dependence, the use and misuse of children’s data, fake news, potential consumer risks and unfortunately many others. Although social media platforms, for a great part of adults, represent one of the easiest and most democratic means of communication due to their convenience, for children, these channels still pose a threat to the social development of children and adolescents. By the year 2022, there had been more than 30 million reports of material relating to child sexual abuse made across social media platforms.

Recently in the United Kingdom, based on the reforms that have been made by the Government, the new Internet safety regulations will go much further than their predecessors did to protect children and free speech online. As a result of the revisions proposed, new measures will be implemented to make social media sites more visible and accountable to their users. This new set of rules is called the Online Safety Bill, and its main objective is to keep young people and adults safe when they are engaging in the digital world. It will make social media companies fully responsible for the safety of their users on their platforms. The OSB also aims to simplify the process for parents and children to report problems that occur on the internet. In America, in his first State of the Union address in March 2020, Joe Biden outlined his plan for making the Internet a better place for its virtual users. The US president demanded privacy rules that prohibit targeted advertising and the gathering of children's personal information. Biden stated that social media firms have been conducting a profitable and destructive "national experiment" on their users. They were obliged to take responsibility for it. COPPA (the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, an American set of laws sponsored by the Federal Trade Commission) imposes certain criteria on operators of websites or online services aimed at children under 13 and on operators of other websites or online services that have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information online from a child under 13. Last year, in the United States, the global company Weight Watchers was accused of using a diet app to illegally collect information on children as young as eight, such as their names, email addresses, and birth dates, without the permission of their parents; consequently, they were obliged to pay a $1.5 million fine and remove the data of young users. Should we only blame companies for children's misuse of technology? Although Big Tech companies must be responsible and more proactive in terms of minimising the risks that young people may face via their platforms, we need to reframe this discussion; children's screen time is still a significant contemporary health concern. In the UK, more than 90% of young people (15 to 16 years old) access social media (Statista, 2022), while nearly 40% of children aged between 8 to 11 years old access these platforms (OfCom, 2022). The more concerning data refers to young children; around 28% of children between 3 to 7 years old have their own social media profile (Statista, 2022).

Parents are the frontline to children’s use of technology.

In the "offline world", we keep our kids safe from strangers, make sure we always know where they are, and watch them play sports for hours, but we don't spend much time with them where they spend most of their time: in front of a screen. Similar to how we teach our children to look both ways before crossing the street, we have to provide them with the skills they need to use the Internet and social media prudently. This really is a new frontier, and many parents (like me) who grew up in the digital age don't know how to handle the issues related to digital media. If we want our kids to have a more balanced life where play, socialising and learning don't have to happen in front of a screen, it's up to us (the parents) to make sure they don't spend too much time in front of one or have access to certain detrimental content available via social media platforms (Dr Kulman, child clinical psychologist).

One of the challenges of raising children in the modern digital age is that kids are often more tech-savvy than their parents. Our children are experts at the newest video games, mobile applications and social media sites long before we've had the chance to try them out. Many parents appear to have accepted the assumption that they are incapable of keeping up with technology, which may explain why children are better equipped to adapt to and navigate the digital environment.

Are you, like many other parents, wondering how you can teach your child to be a responsible user of social media? Organisations such as Common Sense can be a vital resource in your quest for promoting responsible social media consumption. Also, you can look for some support via virtual online communities; you may get advice from healthcare professionals on the expert panels or discuss day-to-day strategies with fellow members.

In addition, depending on your child's age, social media will continue to play a major role in their social and creative life, despite its dangers. Thus, banning their access to these platforms is an ineffective action. To get kids off their phones, tablets and computers, provide them with worthwhile alternatives. The use of social media is not going away any time soon, especially considering the increasing importance of technology in the world's future. Therefore, a complete prohibition or total abstinence is an unattainable goal that is likely to be ineffective. Of course, parents should limit their children’s access to social media when they feel kids are using them inappropriately.

The best solution lies in an open and frank discussion and the establishment of certain rules Have a conversation with your kid in which you both explain the rules and the consequences of breaking them. For instance, if you do not want them to access social media while eating meals, or at school, etc. You should talk to them in advance about how to handle situations about the risks and benefits.

As the future becomes more and more tech-centred, social media is here to stay. Therefore, a blanket ban or total abstinence is an unrealistic standard that is sure to fail. (Shrilaxmi Hegde)

My final words:

Personally I do not think that children under 13 years old have the maturity to use certain social media platforms (such as Facebook, TikToK, or Twitter), but I am not saying that older kids shouldn't be able to use the Internet or access social media; on the contrary, children need to be able to maximise the opportunities provided by the Internet, for example, to do research for school projects, and learn new skills; however, as a parent, we need to keep our eyes open when the topic is social media access: make sure the computers and tablets are in public places where you can watch your child use them. Keep an eye on what your child does online. It might bother them at first, but it will help them understand that keeping an eye on what they are doing online will keep them safe from cyberbullying. Be careful, though, because some kids or teens may make a fake second account for their parents to follow!

I hope you found this post useful and informative. For parents, it is essential to recognize the issues of technology and to seek ways to calm their racing minds. It’s important to remember how enjoyable and beneficial patience can be because the best things in life are more than a click away. Follow us on Facebook or on Twitter

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