I think it's no secret that when it comes to social media, parents have a lot of catching up to do. The way we see it, Gen-Z probably played Farmville before they played with Beanie Babies. So the internet stuff comes naturally to them. They are the social media natives and the parents are the immigrants that find themselves trying to figure out all the norms and etiquettes of wall posting, image tagging and whatnot.
One thing that is universal knowledge however; social media harbors almost the same dangers as the offline world does albeit in an online format. And if they're going to play the role of a responsible digital parent, they're going to have to understandall the dangers that come with their social media platforms.
Right off the gate, parents have to understand the full scope of cyberbullying. Because social media is the ultimate digital playground for bullies. Behind a computer, every child is nameless and faceless, so they're not as accountable for their actions as they would normally be in the real world. This gives them the reckless fearlessness of speaking their mind without thinking of the consequences, which in this case is hurting other kids. Cyberbullying may refer to the following or more things:
- Name calling
- Threatening, blackmailing
- Spreading rumors
- Impersonating for mockery
- Exclusion from peer groups
I think parents underestimate the impact that cyberbullying has on a child. Many parents assume that just because it does not exist in a physical form, it does not have the repercussions that real life playground bullying does.
In that case, it might do parents some good to read about the Amanda Todd case. A 15-year-old was driven to suicide after she was repeatedly blackmailed and bullied on social media.
Or the more recent case of Victoria Seigel, the 18-year-old daughter of "Queen of Versailles" actors, who has mysteriously died after receiving hurtful messages till the morning she died.
Cyberbullying has a serious impact on a child's mental wellbeing. The effect manifest themselves into moodiness, anxiety, depression, and in extreme cases-even suicide.
2. Online Predators
Let's talk about the darker corners of the social media ecosystem. When you're not worrying about your child being hurt by other children, you've got to worry about online predators. They come in many different forms and affect your kids in various ways. They might approach your child on social media:
- For financial exploitation
- For sexual solicitation
- Using an assumed or stolen identity
Something sinister that is fairly common in most cases like these is that online predators are patient. These adults prey on children that are emotionally vulnerable or feel alienated in their own homes. They know all the times a child is online. They find ways to relate to them and take their time establishing a bond with them. They groom the children before manipulating them into exploitation.
Social media is a great way of connecting people, but every once in a while that luxury could turn against you.
3. Inappropriate Content
Unfortunately, most social media platforms don't have clear terms about keeping age inappropriate content at bay. Websites like Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram favor freedom of speech and artistic freedom. Obviously, when the lines of what can and cannot be posted are so blurred, you may come across content you may not like or wouldn't want your child to see. Themes of violence, nudity, politics and pornography are common on these platforms.
There's an awful lot of information out there. And through the instant nature of social media, it updates by the second, so if you were to play the vigilant parent and keep up with what your child is exposed to, you'll have to do a lot of catching up. This is actually where tools like parental control apps come in handy. They do a good job at blocking the inappropriate content and keeping the parent informed about the child's online activities. Of course, there's a good and a bad to it, but I personally think parents need to take some initiative when it comes to their children's online safety. I mean, sure it will be uncomfortable to find your kid sexting with a stranger. But on the other hand, the stranger could be a predator, and you would put an end to it before too much damage is done.
One of the biggest social media devils, especially when it comes to teenagers, is oversharing. Kids have a tendency to post about every waking minute of their lives. They'll tell you exactly where they are having lunch with their friends (on the map with the exact coordinates, mind you), they'll show off when they've bought something new. And to top it all off, they'll post about all their quirks and undertakings throughout the day. This seems harmless enough on the surface, but when you dig deeper, you'll realize the various privacy issues that lie within.
Most social media websites are still dealing with privacy concerns. What to share? How much to share? What counts as privacy breach when everything is meant to be networked? How can privacy be protected?
When you post something on Instagram, it becomes property of the website. So if the pictures are reposted, shared or stolen, you'll have no way to stop it. Ruth Palmer learnt this the hard way when an online stalker stole her pictures to create a different online persona. Your audience on social media is much bigger than you think.
5. Digital Kidnapping
One of the creepier emerging social media trends has be to be digital kidnapping. One stranger steals pictures of an unknown child and reposts them, claiming that the child is their own. They create several social media profiles for their digital make-believe. It may appear harmless, except you're stealing photos of a child you don't know-someone else's child-and that makes this trend a lot creepier. Go to a #BabyRP tag on any social media platform, and you're going to find yourself an entire band of digital kidnappers that are playing house using photos of strangers. What's more-the digital kidnappers are usually young girls between the ages of 13 to 16.
Social media is a great way to network yourself and connect with people, that much is obvious. However, kids will often find themselves connecting with the wrong sort. This is why it helps if parents play a bigger part in their kid's digital upbringing. Using parental control apps to monitor their usage works. For example, XNSPY provides monitoring for most social media apps. But, at the same time, all the monitoring has to be balanced out with a conversation about safety and precaution. Apps can only take you so far... you've got to play your part, too!