I ask a lot of parents with children in primary school (so with children aged somewhere between 5 and 12 years) if their children are using social media. When I ask the question in a group situation, usually about 30% of parents tell me that yes, their children are using social media. The rest are relieved to be able to answer no, phew for that!
However there’s a slight problem with that. When I ask the children of those parents if they’re on social media, about 90% of them tell me they are.
Hmmm….something isn’t quite adding up!
It doesn’t matter what survey results or statistics you read or if you find out from personal experience, the outcome is always the same. About 60% of parents who don’t think their children are using social media are wrong. But not one of them believes for a minute that it’s their child who might be using social media without them knowing it.
There’s no doubt about it: a LOT of children are using social media without their parent’s knowledge, and this may well include your children.
Why Don’t Parents Know If Their Children Are Using Social Media?
Great question. There are two scenarios here. Either:
- Your children have asked if they can use social media and you’ve said no, being the responsible parent who understands that the minimum required ages for using social media platforms are there for a reason; or
- Your children didn’t ask you first as they presumed you’d say no, so they’ve just started using social media without telling you. Of course this way they’re not disobeying you as you haven’t actually told them they couldn’t be there.
Let’s take a closer look at scenario #1. Your children may have complained about you saying no, and maybe you had an argument about it at the time. But then nothing more was said.
However, lets look at the reasons why children want to start using social media.
Peer pressure is a very powerful thing and it starts when children are very young. If your children’s friends are on social media then obviously your children will want to be there too. Every child wants to belong and to be socially accepted by their peers, and a large amount of social activity between friends happens online.
Fear Of Missing Out
The “fear of missing out” (FOMO) is huge for children in primary school who haven’t yet reached their teens. Their worst nightmare is that their peers may be talking about them behind their back, and this can easily become the reality thanks to social media. They also don’t want to miss out on parties and other events through not hearing about them online – who sends physical invitations out anymore?
Children Take The Only Option They Can
Put yourself in your child’s shoes. You really want to do what your friends are doing, and in this instance that means using social media. Your fear of missing out is more powerful than your desire to follow your parent’s instructions.
So you do the only thing you can do to create a win/win scenario: you start using social media behind your parent’s back. Now you get to fit in with your friends, and all you have to do is cover your tracks so that your parents don’t find out.
Maybe you delete your history, or maybe you only check in using a friend’s device when you’re at school; there’s no way your parents will ever know if you’re doing that. Everybody wins, right?
What’s The Big Deal?
Children under 13 years simply don’t have the emotional intelligence to keep themselves safe on social media. They consistently overshare information that puts them at risk from hacking, online predators and cyber bullying. They will undoubtedly see inappropriate content and may create some of their own.
Some of the content they share may result in lost opportunities in future – it’s not uncommon for young adults to lose the opportunity to study, get their dream job or in fact get any job at all as a result of what they may have shared online years earlier. They may miss out on their dream relationship in future, and they frequently yet unknowingly break the law through their online activities involving inappropriate images.
Children simply have no concept that what goes online stays online, and can affect them for years to come. Hearing those words and understanding the full truth behind them are two very different things.
Your Children Need Your Help
Children need parental guidance to help them stay safe online. However if your children are using social media without your knowledge, regardless of whether they’ve asked you if they can be there or not, they’re now in a position where they can’t come to you for help if/when they need it.
Now you have the worst possible scenario: children using social media without understanding online etiquette leads to trouble.
Let me ask the question again: is it possible your children could be using social media without your knowledge? Do you really know what your children are doing online?
What You Can Do To Help Your Children
It’s worth asking your children the question of whether they’re using social media, but you need to approach this wisely. In other words your timing has to be right, and you need to ask the question in a very non-threatening way. The idea is not to be angry with your children, but to be able to help them avoid the numerous pitfalls they’ll otherwise be facing online.
Before you ask them the question it needs to be framed properly. Reassure them that the only way they can get in trouble with you is by not answering the question honestly, ie an honest affirmative answer will not get them in trouble. Make it very easy for them to tell them what they’re doing, and they’ll most likely feel a huge weight has been lifted from their shoulders.
Of course then you can open up a whole new conversation with your children that can be invaluable – not only can you help them stay safe online, but you’ll also have improved your relationship.