Social Media – An Overview for Parents

In the past decade, the use of social media platforms has exploded and is a part of everyday life for most young people and children. Social media is a great way to keep up with family and friends, but there are risks associated with social media and children need support to explore their online world safely.

What is social media?

Networking or social media refers to using online services, like apps or websites, to connect with other people. Young people and children use social media to find others with similar experiences and interests, plan social events, share opinions and information, chat to people they already know and share photos and videos.

Most social media platforms form their identity on the site requiring users to set up a profile of basic personal information. Some sites, such as Facebook, link users to send two-way friend requests that both people have to accept. Others, like Twitter, are a system of one-way communication and people, rather than friends, become followers of others.

The social media most often used by children and young people fall into five categories (many services include aspects of more than one category):

  • Social media networks – services that enable people to interact with others, like Facebook
  • Microblogging – services that enable users to broadcast short messages to others, like Twitter, Tumblr
  • Media sharing – services that enable people to share photos and videos, like YouTube, Instagram
  • Messaging apps – like an alternative to SMS/texting, with extra options, like Snapchat
  • Multi-player online games, like World of Warcraft, Minecraft.

What are the benefits of social media?

Social media offers children the opportunity to:

  • Stay connected to friends and family
  • Enhance their creativity by sharing artistic work or music
  • Connect with new people, around the world or locally, who share their experiences and interests
  • Explore diverse ideas and connect with people from different backgrounds
  • Express and develop their individual identity.

What are the risks of social media?

Many children will never experience any of the issues described below.

  • Cyberbullying refers to people attacking, harassing or embarrassing others online. Cyberbullying can have serious consequences for children.
  • Sexting is using the mobile phone or Internet to create and share sexually explicit images or messages. Sexting can be a serious issue, with both emotional and legal consequences.
  • Sexual predators are exceptionally skilled at using social media to identify and groom children for later sexual contact. Note that grooming children is a crime.
  • When children make online friends with people they don’t know in real life, their information can end up being shared far beyond their circle and can be almost impossible to remove.
  • When you post personal information on social media platforms (full name, birthday, even pets’ names or hobbies) it can be used by stalkers or bullies, and can help criminals target you for scams or guess passwords, help sexual predators build rapport and possibly lead to identity theft.

So, get involved, be aware of what your children are doing online. Become familiar with social media platforms and join up yourself to see how they work. Be Facebook friends with your children.

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