Why is My Child Addicted to Social Media | And What Can I Do?
Gone are the days of books and printed material. Materials that are easy to control, easy to monitor. Parents and teachers now face a more complex reality; a virtual world of constant change and evolution. And with it, the many social media platforms that seem to consume our kids.
It seemed not so long ago, children were more concerned with how far they could kick a ball compared to their siblings or friends, rather than how many virtual friends or followers they had on their social media pages. The ages of children on such sites may also come as a surprise to parents.
What are the parents saying?
Jodie Smith*, mother of ten year old twins Sally* and Samuel*, said her children have been active online for about two years. However, it was only 12 months ago that Jodie and her partner made this discovery.
“We knew iPod’s have internet access but we didn’t know how capable our kids were with connecting, using, and abusing this access,” Jodie said.
Which begs the question, are parents familiar with and knowledgeable on all the social media outlets and applications that children so frequently use? If not, we too need to educate ourselves as adults in order to keep our youth safe.
Jodie continued, “Our kids are more intelligent than we give them credit. They are only ten yet teach me how to use my phone and they are two of the few in their classes who don’t have their own mobile.”
When I spoke with her, both Sally and Sam were in the next room tapping away at screens.
What Social Media are our kids using?
Sam enjoys playing online games and talking in group chats with his friends from school. Sally loves taking selfies, especially of her hairstyles, and posting to Instagram. Both use Snapchat daily. Sound familiar? It should.
The first disconcerting issue arose one year ago, when Sally came home from school, in tears, after being criticised about her weight. She had been called fat by a class mate. After investigating, Jodie learnt that Sally had posted a photo of herself in bikinis on her Instagram profile – a medium Jodie didn’t even know Sally was actively using.
“I couldn’t believe that she had posted the photo to begin with let alone had a profile on this site. It really opened our eyes about how naive our children can be in knowing what is right and wrong and how vulnerable they are online,” said Jodie.
This naivety and vulnerability can also be a danger zone for children; ultimately and unwittingly making them prey to savvy online child predators.
“Social media makes life easier for predators who can make fake profiles (disguising themselves as youth), and our children being so trusting can get tricked into talking to them,” Jodie said with concern.
These accounts are now monitored by their parents – through access of password and disclosing who they are connecting with – and rigid private settings are in place. But without looking over their shoulder at all times, how can parents protect their children in our virtual world?
Keeping up with Social Media
The internet is an integral component in young people’s lives and will continue to be so. Therefore, they must be navigated to maintain their own moral compass and make sound judgements amidst the never ending chatter and reduced levels of privacy.
With knowledge at their fingertips, and when used responsibly, the online world can create socialisation, provide entertainment, and provide access for information and learning.
It is the evolving nature of the internet posing challenges for parents and teachers who strive for their children and students to practice positive and safe online activity.
“These trends change as fast as the seasons. Just when parents have one under control, the child is onto the next.”
– Derek Maclean
Derek Maclean, Area Supervisor of schools for Brisbane Catholic Education, believes the issue for parents in monitoring and controlling their children’s social media usage is that the hot trend, the ‘cool app or site’, changes often and parents are struggling to keep up.
“The issue really lies with the rapid change of medium. We know common sites like Facebook or Instagram are being used, but there is quite a buzz, especially with the younger primary students, around the latest app where their friends have profiles and are communicating on,” he said.
“These trends change as fast as the seasons. Just when parents have one under control, the child is onto the next. It really is an ever-evolving technological world.”
The fact for teachers is that their role too is changing.
Derek says his involvement with school leadership teams have concluded that schools must play a role in resolving online issues to protect students from incurring long term mental damage. Schools have strict social media and internet guidelines and policies in place to protect students.
The negatives of Social Media
“Often the offending cyber bullying happens away from school therefore it is a matter that needs to be tackled by parents in partnership with schools,” he said.
Where once a student who was bullied or victimised at school, they are now left with no escape as social media devices are taken into the home and not simply left at the school gate.
Where once a school yard dispute could be resolved outside of the classroom in a few minutes with the teacher, this now requires the involvement of the teacher (during teaching time) to resolve ongoing online issues occurring outside of school.
Where once a teacher could see classroom distractions, are now hidden in screens through the click of a button.
Year 6 teacher, Sharon Steiner, can concur with these challenges as she often has to stop teaching to reconnect her students with their tasks.
“They are so easily distracted by pop-up advertisements, games, images and videos that they find it difficult to stay on task. While the school’s blocked social mega pages do serve to assist that social media is a home activity, not a school one, it’s frequent that activity on their social media pages is brought into school through student discussions or parents wanting us to resolve issues from the night before,” she said.
“I can’t even imagine how distracted they get at home trying to complete homework on their devices when they can access social media.”
With the changing nature and the prominence of social media comes the need for understanding, particularly in classrooms. Understanding the mediums our children are using, understanding why they behave the way they do online and understanding how we can protect them.
Derek, as a mentor of quality learning and teaching, believes it is important for teachers to cater for their students being active and avid online participants.
“The online world is where students often feel comfortable therefore teachers need to understand it so that they can understand their students better. One of the major aims of teachers is to engage students therefore an understanding of how they behave is essential,” he said.
So let’s try to understand.
Two Concerns about Social Media and Kids
Kellie Britnell, Senior Education Advisor from the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner said there are two concerning trends behind children’s social media usage. The first issue involves the desire to be liked.
“There is a notion of young people in terms of validation. Social media creates a never ending need for validation where children are posting photos and status’ seeking likes or affirming comments from their peers,” she said.
This sense of wanting to be liked is made more conscious to children by simply being online as they are constantly engulfed with how they, or others, look or act on their pages.
Kellie said that children may also lack the maturity to distinguish between what is and what isn’t ok to be posting and simultaneously, the consequences of their posts.
“Children often share too much information and don’t realise the magnitude of a simple post and who can access this post. This also includes the sharing of inappropriate content,” she said.
The second trend of concern is our children being different people online – establishing themselves as someone they’re not or acting in ways they wouldn’t in the real world.
Kellie believes it is this need for validation that often leads to children not being themselves in the virtual world.
“Children are saying things online that they wouldn’t say in real life or depicting themselves as something they’re not,” she says.
Is this because their parents are unaware of what they are doing? Are children seeking validation by acting in a way they think is better than their real selves? Or do our children feel empowered behind the computer screen?
How to help a ‘Social Media Addict’
To understand our children, we need take an ‘old school’ approach. We need to have conversations. Face to face conversations.
Parents and teachers need to be educated, converse with children about online safety and take action on monitoring device usage. An approach suggested by the eSafety Commission that encourages critical, reflective thinking for our children is the ‘whole world test’ involving asking children if they want the whole world to see what they are posting. If the answer is no, they shouldn’t post.
Also, assisting children to translate their online behaviour to an offline environment and reflect if they would act the same, and if not, then to reconsider their virtual profiles.
For further information on keeping our children educated and safe, government resources are provided for children, parents and teachers for class room use. These resources guide safe and responsible use of social media for our children, including interactive quizzes and games to engage children and lesson plans for teachers.
For more information for parents, please visit https://www.esafety.gov.au/education-resources/iparent.
For more information for teachers, please visit https://www.esafety.gov.au/education-resources/classroom-resources.
A list with information and parental support of trending social media apps can be found at www.esafety.gov.au/esafety-information/games-apps-and-social-networking.
If you are concerned with your child’s internet usage or your child is facing online conflict, please seek help through https://www.esafety.gov.au/complaints-and-reporting or call 1800 55 1800.
*Names of parent and children have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals
Written by Sarah Pettiford