Social networking describes a variety of services like Facebook, YouTube, World of Warcraft, Moshi Monsters and Twitter. All of these services enable direct interaction between individuals. Users can post information about themselves, display photos, tell people what they’ve been up to, chat and play games. Social networking forms a part of the social identity of many teens.
While social networking offers many benefits, there are risks. Sometimes children can forget who they are communicating with online and who might see the information they post. It can be easier for children and teens to say and do things online that they might not do offline. It can also be easier to talk to strangers online than it is offline, and they may confide too much in people they don’t know well.
It is important that children understand the risks associated with disclosing information about themselves online and know how to manage both their privacy and online ‘friends’.
Is my child old enough to use social media?
Is my child old enough for social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Tumblr, Twitter, Kik etc? Most high profile social networking sites ask users set up a profile with photos and information about themselves. 13 is the minimum user age required by Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Tumblr and Twitter. Kik recommends that users are 17 years or older. If your child is 13+ you should still consider the following before agreeing to unsupervised access:
Is your child able to withstand taunts from others?
If you think your child will become very upset (more than other kids) if they have a negative experience online, your child may need you to guide them through the use of social platforms. Look through their profiles and public feeds together, talk about how some people behave differently online and teach them how to filter abusive comments, block and report people.
Does your child understand what is safe to put online?
If they might put their name, address, school, sports club or information that allows people to identify and locate them (even after you have talked through the dangers) they may need your help with using social networking sites. Talk about the risks of ‘checking in’, posting sexy pictures, meeting online friends in person, making offensive comments, and what is and isn’t acceptable.
Does your child know how to report abuse and offensive or pornographic content?
If not you need to visit the site’s Safety Centre with them to ensure they know how to block and report people.
Are you worried your child will be left out?
Are you worried your child will be left out if they aren’t on the same social networks as their peer group but also worried they aren’t ready?
As a compromise you may choose to let them have social networking accounts if they follow strict rules – including only using social sites when you supervise them or you control their login. In return, and to keep them engaged with you, you can promise not to embarrass them by commenting publicly on their profile or posts. Teens tell us this is humiliating and it is their private world.
Are you going to supervise or ‘friend’ your child on social sites?
If this is the case, be prepared to learn more than you might like about their friends.
Try to withhold comment unless you are worried about safety. It is better to talk to your child in person if you have concerns than post comments publicly. If you publicly embarrass them, you will break your child’s trust and they may simply communicate with friends on a different program – or open a separate profile without your knowledge.
How do I talk to my child about my concerns?
Be honest with them. Express your love and concern about what might happen online. Ask if they have experienced bullying or sexual advances. Banning seldom works and children will find other ways to get online and may stop talking to you about issues to avoid getting in trouble. Keep the communication open. If they won’t talk to you about things, recruit a trusted family friend or family member to keep the communication going.
When should I be worried about my child?
If your child’s behaviour changes at home and/or school you should talk to them. Examples of changed behaviour could include disinterest in things they used to like, seeming very unhappy and/or their sleep and eating is being impacted. Seek professional advice if necessary from a school counsellor, your GP or a psychologist. If your child has particular vulnerabilities, be vigilant about their contacts offline and online. Help them join groups out of school where they can find friends and support. Talk to the school and make sure they are supported.
Other platforms you should know about
Location based services
Many social networking sites take advantage of location-based services which enable users to report their physical location to others via their mobile phone. This is an increasingly popular function, particularly on Facebook.
Using this function, users can physically locate friends and others from social networking sites. Individuals can ‘check-in’ from a location to let others know their whereabouts.
On some social networking services the location based functions are turned on by default. To manage these services, encourage your child to review their social networking settings to block the function or to limit who sees their location based information. You may also like to contact your mobile phone company for assistance with blocking internet, Bluetooth and GPS functionality on a child’s mobile phone to limit their ability to notify others of their whereabouts.
Chat and instant messaging
Chat and instant messaging (IM) allow users to share messages instantaneously with others. Chat rooms allow users with similar interests to send messages to each other.
Issues and complaints when using a social networking site
Concerns about social networking sites can be reported to the website administrator in first instance. Look for the contact us section of the site. Many sites have ‘report’ buttons or a contact centre to help address issues around safety, offensive content, hacking and scams.
Users can also seek independent legal advice about the options they may have for dealing with the material concerned.
The ACMA can also investigate complaints about prohibited online content. If you come across material that you think may be prohibited under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 you can report this to the ACMA’s online hotline.
If there is a threat to your child’s safety the police can help.
In a life-threatening and time-critical situation call Triple Zero (000).