Social media is popular among teens, and even older children, as a means to spread their messages quickly and efficiently. Although the sites have dangers, they are, for the most part, a great way to connect with the world.
But while much of what happens on social is relatively harmless, parents do need to take note of what their children are doing. Unfortunately, parents often have no clue what's happening because children don't relinquish their electronic devices for parents to see. Here are some of the potential dangers of social networks, which particularly relate to younger users.
- Sexual predators, human trafficking and child predators. All of these people troll the social media sites to find young children, boys and girls. Often, children make it easy for these predators to target them because they lie about their age to get an account and will talk to anyone even if they don't know the person.
- Body shaming. Media and body image has long been associated with girls, especially when they see super-skinny models all over the place. The projection of idealised beauty can make girls feel less confident if they don't match up and new research has shown that social media is now affecting boys the same way.
- Cyber bullying. Teens are picking on young kids or people their own age through social media sites like Snapchat. This website allows people to send photos and add your own drawing on top of it - bullies add defamatory and degrading information to the pictures and send.
- Inciting terrorism. The New York Times reported that Palestinian boys are using social media to inflict violence on those in Israel. They look to social media to find a leader they might not have in everyday life. They watch videos on YouTube about Palestinians attacking Israelis. And, instead of going to work, they do their own attacking, thus continuing the spread of violence.
- Exposure to criminal acts. People are committing crimes and posting the evidence on social media. Besides being a stupid move, this action can be scary. It also can give young people ideas on what they can do. In one report, a man drove over a boy and posted pictures of the dead body on his social media.
- Identity thieves. Children love to post all the wrong information. People who want to steal your children's identity will look for those posts that children shouldn't have released. Criminals can get a lot of information from photos or from children posting because they're young and don't know any better. Vacation photos will tell thieves you are away from home. Posting personal information, such as birth dates, could lead to identity theft.
So what can parents do?
Although it may be difficult, find out what your children are doing online - Befriend them on Facebook and Snapchat - however, it's possible they won't be using their real name and/or block your presence.
Contact the police if you see evidence of criminal acts - Many of these, such as cyberbullying and posting pictures of dead bodies, are criminal offences. The police would want to know about them.
Talk to your children about their body image - Tell them you love them for who they are. They don't have to be super-skinny or falsely bulk up their male bodies. Give them ways to help maintain a positive body image.
Get them counselling - If you notice significant changes in your childs behaviour, be it depression, poor body image or if they're doing something they shouldn't be doing, you should think about getting help. Let the professionals explain the issues to the children. Some places will come to your home to talk with them.
Take action - Although it can be difficult, acting early to address concerns is best.
Parents need to remain aware of the potential dangers, and be prepared to act to ensure their children are protected on social media. Horror stories occur daily - it's worth making yourself aware of the potential risks.
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