Social Media for Children: Threat or Opportunity?

Question

The following discussion question is used for this essay: “Social media provide opportunities to bring people together, as in a Facebook ‘event,’ or comments on your birthday, but it can also result in bad feelings and malicious or even criminal behaviors. What should parents do – if anything – about their children’s use of social media? Give free rein? Set age limits? Keep them off social media altogether” (Flew & Smith, 2014, p. 28)?

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Introduction

Due to the development of technology, many people have access to the Internet and use social networking for communication, entertainment, and business. As it becomes more and more affordable over the course of time, children also receive the opportunity to be involved in social media. According to Common Sense Media, more than 75% of young people have social media accounts, and usually more than one (Augenbraun, 2014).

More than half of these children text daily, which makes their parents worried. As a result, some of these parents are urging companies to create devices with parental control features and to develop apps for monitoring children’s social media activity. However, others believe that there is no need to set these boundaries and that kids should be given free rein.

Age of Accessing the Internet and Social Media

Today, children receive access to social media at a very young age, which means that they can hardly avoid inappropriate content or communication with strangers on their own. Parents teach their kids to live in the real world, and the online world should not be an exception. In some schools, for example, first graders learn the basics of using a computer (Gaytan, 2013). At home, many parents allow their toddlers and preschoolers to play games and watch videos on the Internet but do not pay attention to the possibility of their children being confronted with harmful advertisements.

Nevertheless, at this age, children do not usually use the Internet by themselves and are not likely to come into contact with others. Additional attention is needed when they start doing Internet research for school or personal interest because even if they do not use social media themselves, they may come across social networking sites accidentally. Junior high and high school students are the most involved age groups in the social media population, as they use social media on a regular basis to communicate with peers and make new friends. In this way, children of all ages may be confronted with social networking, and not all of them may be ready for it. Depending on this factor, strict rules or at least careful monitoring is recommended.

Advantages of Social Media

Some people may think that children should have the opportunity to use social media as they want without any control because they can be positively affected by the possibility to connect, share, and learn online. By recognizing the positive features of social media, and assisting children in using them, parents can promote kids’ development.

It is important to consider that social media can strengthen friendships. Social media can provide children with an opportunity to keep in contact with their schoolmates and neighborhood friends. Even if one of them moves to another location, kids can continue communicating using Facebook or Twitter, etc. It is also possible to make friends in this way, as there are many groups that unite people with the same interests (Vallor, 2012). They often hold meetings and gather for different events.

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Social media can help children to feel a part of a larger community. Having unique interests, points of view, and hobbies, some teens may feel isolated. However, social media provide them with an opportunity to find people who share their ideas. This also works if a child lives in a distant area and has little opportunity to get in touch with peers.

Social media allow teens to feel that they are supported. At this age, many children believe that they are treated unfairly or that adults cannot understand them; some are bullied by schoolmates and cannot find a common language with them. With the help of social media, they can contact peers who have or had the same problems and find out how to deal with them. Moreover, suicidal teens can obtain the support they require and change their decision to commit suicide.

Social media can be a great tool for self-expression. It gives children an opportunity to reveal their stories and poems or to post personally created images and videos (Knorr, 2017). In addition, they can easily receive feedback regarding their craft.

Finally, social media gives people the opportunity to do good things. For example, many companies use Twitter and Facebook to let the general public know about local and global issues and outstanding people.

Thus it can be concluded that there is no need to control children’s access to social media. However, it is vital to consider the dangers of using the Internet and social networking.

Dangers of Social Media

Parents should monitor and control their children’s access to social media because they can get in trouble through an inability to protect themselves from various hazards. In particular, attention should be paid to the issues discussed below.

Even though making friends online is good, no one can be completely protected from meeting people who use false identities. While some people may be doing so just to have fun, others may be willing to bully or even kidnap a child in order to sell, abuse, or kill them. People rarely know that they are dealing with internet predators, and kids are scarcely able to identify them. As a result, they develop trust-based relationships with individuals they hardly know, and that trust leads to them to take all their words at face value. If children do not have good relations with their parents, they are likely to become even closer to these individuals and can be deceived by them over the course of time.

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The Internet seems to have no limits. It is full of websites that advertise for each other and make their various content, including inappropriate material, accessible to children (Duggan, Lenhart, Lampe, & Ellison, 2015). They can easily enter adult chat rooms that are created on social media or receive information that is pornographic or violent in nature.

As a rule, kids believe that the information they are sent in private chats or posts and then delete is not available anymore. However, nothing is private on the Internet. If they post the date of their birthday and invite friends, criminals can use this information to track them. They may face an even more critical situation if some important data is revealed, such as a password or a credit card. Criminals may ask children to provide this information if they want to buy something, etc.

In general, parents believe that if children behave properly and tend to act maturely, they can have free access to social media. However, no one can be entirely sure that a child will not communicate with strangers just because a child has never done so before. Kids may be tricked by some person and will give them their phone numbers or pictures even if they were ordered not to do so. Moreover, they may become victims of cyberbullying, which will negatively affect their mental and emotional state (Davison & Stein, 2014). Thus, it is better for parents to control their children’s use of social media. In this way, they will be able to protect them from possible hazards. Moreover, they should teach their children how to identify and avoid these hazards.

Staying Involved in Children’s Social Media Use

Parents should remember that the Internet makes it easy for people to pretend that they are someone else. Even if children let their relatives know what they are doing when accessing social media, adult caregivers cannot be sure that the children are not being tricked. In this way, it is better for parents to stay updated and know how to check online activities.

Parents should gather the most important information about computers, the Internet, and social media, starting with the basics. They should know what a computer’s Internet history and parental controls are and what they do. As a result, they will be able to check Internet history records and know what their children did when they were online. In addition, parental controls will give them an opportunity to set a password that will prevent kids from accessing websites that offer or promote inappropriate content.

Moreover, it is possible to put the computer in a family room so that children will not use it in private. There is no need to check everything kids do, but by being aware of the fact that it is possible, children will be unlikely to do something forbidden. However, if a teenage child has their own personal computer or laptop, they should have the opportunity to put it where they want. Nevertheless, parents should be able to limit their children’s use of the Internet.

In addition to monitoring and control, parents should educate their children about the dangers of the Internet. If they are aware of the possibility to be deceived, they are more likely to act carefully and to pay more attention to their safety (Gentile, Reimer, Nathanson, Walsh, & Eisenmann, 2014). In a similar way, children should know that they can receive support from their parents if they are harassed or bullied.

While the best option to protect children is to forbid them from posting their photos at all, this goal can hardly be reached. Nevertheless, parents are able to check if those photos their kids share are appropriate and do not provide any personal information. Children should understand that there is an online reputation and that their online actions can affect their real life. Thus they should realize that inappropriate messages and images should be avoided because they can hinder them from enrolling in their desired college or being hired for a new job.

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It often happens that parents do not tell their children about possible hazards because they do not want to scare them. However, it is better to make children feel insecure on the Internet than to let them be unaware of dangers (Gatty, 2016). When they know about potential issues, children will try to avoid them.

It is also vital to remember that kids learn extremely quickly and parents need to know the features of current technology. Only in this way will they be able to ensure that children are not led into danger. While the use of parental controls may be considered a limitation, it is a good way to protect kids of all ages. There is nothing bad about monitoring children’s activities until they are able to control their own lives without assistance. However, excessive control should be avoided because it will negatively affect family relationships.

Social Media Safety Rules

By monitoring children’s activity on the Internet and social media in particular, parents have an opportunity to make sure that their children do not access inappropriate content and do not get into trouble online (Gentile et al., 2014). However, there are even greater advantages when kids are taught to follow properly established safety rules even before they receive access to the Internet or social media. In this way, parents can also simplify the process of further controlling Internet usage, because children will be used to following particular rules and will not be likely to break them on a regular basis.

The first necessary step is to let kids know that their personal information should not be posted. Even though they can mention their names and upload some photos, it is better not to add their address or phone number. It is vital to remember that every rule set by parents should be supported by a rationale or an example from real life. In this way, children will realize that the rules their parents establish are not just whims. Moreover, if they are afraid of adverse consequences, they will be more likely to obey the rules. Thus, parents should ensure that children realize that their personal information can be used to deceive them or to create fake personalities, etc.

Kids should not be allowed to post their personal pictures and videos if they reveal personal information because it can be used by criminals to find them. While teens can select appropriate materials themselves and only some monitoring is needed, younger children should show photos and videos to their parents for them to check if they are appropriate for posting online.

Children should not be allowed to meet people whom they met while using social media. They need to be aware of the possibility of online sexual predators who can hurt them (Louie, 2017). Even though there is a possibility that they have made friends with a real person who is willing to communicate, no one can be totally sure that the person is not a criminal. However, if parents know a lot of information about this friendship and they also believe a chat friend is a real one, they should attend the meeting with their children. Teens are likely to resist this alternative, but they can at least go with their friends and let parents know about the event and the place where it is held.

If social media are used by children regularly, parents should monitor chats and ensure that the profile is set to private (Gentile et al., 2014). In addition, they should pay attention to any information posted and make sure it is appropriate. As teens are likely to be against this type of parental control, parents should be added to their friends on social media, which allows monitoring without excessive interference.

Parents should establish a safety rule according to which their children will come to them every time they have problems online (Dawson, 2017). Many kids have constant access to social media, and it is difficult to control their activities when they are not at home. However, this rule provides an opportunity to ensure children’s wellbeing even without other control and monitoring measures. This rule is appropriate for children of all ages even if they do not provide any other information about their online presence. It is also vital to realize that this rule works only if relations between children and parents are good. Moreover, threatening or sexual messages should not be deleted, as it is better to save them and show them to the local police department in case they are repeated.

Unwillingness to Follow the Rules

Unfortunately, it may occur that children are not willing to obey the rules set by their parents. In this situation, it is necessary to become stricter and develop additional prohibitions in order to ensure kids’ safety. In the beginning, it can be enough to discuss and restate all rules. Children should have an opportunity to change their behavior before facing further restrictions. If nothing changes, it is time to give a final warning.

Parents should emphasize the adverse consequences of particular actions. However, if there is a high possibility of children’s contact with strangers who are likely to use fake personalities, it is better to take the next step and ban them from using social media or even the Internet for some period of time. In this way, parents will send the clearest possible message, emphasizing the fact that the rules they set cannot be ignored because a lot of children treat this kind of punishment as the severest one (“Internet safety for kids and teens,” n.d.). If the Internet is to be used for school research, children should be allowed to use a computer in a local library or to use their own, but with parents sitting next to them.

If parents are unwilling to try this option, they can still block websites they want their children to avoid. For instance, if a child posted private information on Facebook, it should be blocked. In addition, it is possible to permit children to use the computer only in the parents’ presence. In this way, it is easy to monitor all activities and ensure that the rules are not broken.

Conclusion

Even though social media may provide numerous advantages to children and increase their opportunities to communicate with others, social media can also entail numerous dangers that can be avoided through monitoring and restrictions. Depending on children’s ages, various interventions can be considered. Kids should be educated about the use of the Internet and social media even before they start using them.

At first, children require constant monitoring and a set of rules to follow, but over the course of time, more freedom can be given. If appropriate guidance is provided to children during their younger years, it can be sufficient for teenagers if their parents ensure that teenage children will come to them when any issue arises. However, additional restrictions may be needed if children refuse to follow parents’ rules because their safety is critical.

References

Academic Sources

Davison, C., & Stein, C. (2014). The dangers of cyberbullying. North American Journal of Psychology, 16(3), 595-606.

Dawson, R. (2017). Talking to adolescents about social media. Pediatric Annals, 46(8), 274-276.

Gaytan, J. (2013). Integrating social media into the learning environment of the classroom: Following social constructivism principles. Journal of Applied Research for Business Instruction, 11(1), 1-6.

Gentile, D., Reimer, R., Nathanson, A., Walsh, D., & Eisenmann, J. (2014). Protective effects of parental monitoring of children’s media use: A prospective study. JAMA Pediatrics, 168(5), 479.

Louie, D. (2017). Social media and the sexual exploitation of indigenous girls. Girlhood Studies, 10(2), 97-113.

Vallor, S. (2012). Flourishing on Facebook: Virtue friendship & new social media. Ethics and Information Technology, 14(3), 185-199.

Non-Academic Sources

Augenbraun, E. (2014). Should parents snoop on their kids online? Web.

Duggan, M., Lenhart, A., Lampe, C., & Ellison, N. (2015). Concerns about children, social media and technology use. Web.

Flew, T., & Smith, R. (2014). New media: An introduction (2nd ed.). Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press.

Gatty, S. (2016). Should parents monitor their children’s social media? Web.

Internet safety for kids and teens. (n.d.). Web.

Knorr, C. (2017). 5 reasons you don’t need to worry about kids and social media. Web.

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