How do kids use social media? Let's understand it!

Make it a rule never to give a child a book you would not read yourself
— George Bernard Shaw

As we make headway into 2017, it will come as little surprise that social media usage continues to rise. At the end of last year, the total number of people on social media had exceeded 2 billion - with experts predicting it to move smoothly past 2.5 billion this year.

That is an incredible number - more than a 3rd of the world able to connect with one another!

But how many children are using social media? 

The Facts (13 - 17 year olds on social media) 

71% of teens using social media state they use more than one social media network. Out of these Facebook is the one used most often - with Instagram and Snapchat in 2nd and 3rd respectively.

 Statistics taken from  Pew Research Centre

Statistics taken from Pew Research Centre

With such a high number of teens using social media, surely these networks have age limits and restrictions to ensure the safety of our children? 

The short answer is yes. Almost all social media networks have a minimum age restriction of 13 or above. However, the simple reality is: 75% of children aged 10 - 12 have a social media account.

So what are the age limits on the most popular social media websites? 

  • 13 Years Old: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, Tumblr, Reddit, Snapchat, Skype, Myspace, LinkedIn
  • 14 Years Old: LinkedIn (in USA)
  • 16 Years Old: WhatsApp
  • 18 Years Old: (or need adult permission): Kik, YouTube, Flickr, Xbox Live, Tinder

Some stats can make for a scary read above more worryingly the harsh reality is that...

THESE AGE RESTRICTIONS MEAN NOTHING!!!

If a child wants to sign up to social media, they will do. Facebook will not ask for proof of age.

Don't worry it's not time for a mass panic! It's just important to understand that children will be using social media and in instances they will be using it excessively.

So how do we educate children on social media? 

Educate Yourself

As parents there are plenty of things we won't understand about our children. Why are they wearing those clothes? Why are they singing that song?

As parents and role models it's important that as adults we understand social media. And to understand the behaviour around social media.

We could just read all of the bad stories about social media and go into a mass panic, urging children to keep away. I't just won't work. Children will use social media. You can't control it.

And if you can't control it, adapt to it.

People fear what they don’t understand and hate what they can’t conquer
— Andrew Smith

So how do you educate yourself on social media? 

  1. Create an account: "There are so many social media networks! Where do I start!?" Start easy. Try the biggest social networks, especially those popular with teens aged 13-17 (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat). 
  2. Seek help from an existing user: Social media channels are created to be simple. You will most likely manage alone but getting advice from an existing user during your first steps can be really beneficial to your understanding.  
  3. One step at a time: Do not grab a list of every social network and sign up today. It's important to get a proper grasp of one social channel at a time. Being enthusiastic is great but just be patient. 
  4. It's not a spying tool: Don't sign up to Facebook and immediately send a friend request to your son or daughter and their closest friends. Sign up to educate yourself on how to use social media. Try making your own circles and using it for your own entertainment. This will give you a proper working knowledge of the network. If you spook your child they will just move onto a new network which you don't understand. 
  5. Watch and learn: Ask actual teenagers how they use social media. Create an open and honest dialogue and observe how other teenagers communicate in a mobile and social world.
Because of their social position, what’s novel for teens is not the technology but the public life that it enables
— Danah Boyd

Educate Your Children 

Don't be fooled that you will ever know more than your children when it comes to social media! However, knowing enough to help support and guide them is all you need. Understanding each network and why children want to be on there allows you to have a deeper knowledge and give better advice.

If you stop children from being on Twitter or Facebook, they'll just move to WhatsApp or Instagram or SnapChat or...whichever app is taking the teen world by storm (this year it could be Monkey - chances are you've never even heard of this one?!!?) Give them the skills to make good decisions and to stay safe first and foremost.

The following are a few practical lessons to teach your children, and are arguably some of the most important lessons about social media. Everything on social is permanent and your social profile is an extension of yourself, so be cautious and sensible.

NOT BORING...BUT SENSIBLE 👍

1. Teach children that whatever they put online is permanent (this includes texting!) Private is not always private. The photo they post online is not owned by them anymore. It’s owned by Facebook, Instagram, and Google, etc… and they can do what they want with it (so can that bully who happens to be a friend of a friend on Facebook which gives them access to certain photos your child's posts).

2. Teach your child not to interact/follow people they don’t know in person. YouTube star Coby Person has made two fantastic, powerful videos conducting social experiments in which he messages teenagers using a fake profile. This is a real hard-hitting video which should be shown to all children to highlight the dangers of social media. 

3.  93% of managers check a candidate's social media profile. This stat is really important. If a child uploads anything which an employer would deem inappropriate, it could stop them from getting for their dream job or even going to their preferred University.

  • 55% of managers reconsider a candidate based on what they find on their social media channels
  • 44% of hiring managers see posts about alcohol as concerning
  • 83% see references about illegal drugs as a huge turn off
  • 26% of hiring managers check an applicant's Facebook page
  • 16% of hiring managers check an applicants Twitter page

What if a child asks you if they can sign up to social media?

Don't start with NO! If your child is one the few children who has asked you to sign up to social media before doing so. It's important to discuss with your child there reasons for wanting to sign up to social media. 

1. Why do you want an Instagram account? They’ll probably answer with something like “Because ALL my friends have one”

2. Which of your friends are on Instagram? Hopefully they will tell you. If not maybe they’re not ready to be on social media

3. Are these the only people you would be friends with on Instagram? This might be a good time to talk about only interacting with people they know in real life. Ask them "what would you do if a stranger added you?"

4. What do you know about Instagram? They may say something like “You talk to friends and share photos”

5. What kind of photos would you be sharing? Our guess is that they’ll say something like “I don’t know. Me and my friends.” This is a great time to talk about what types of photos are appropriate to share online and why

Our kids will be doing jobs that don’t even exist yet! Are we leading by example and preparing them?
— Simon Noakes, CEO & Founder, Interactive Schools

Tips for monitoring children's social media use

It's very likely that your children will know more about social media than you do. So how do you monitor your children's social media use without invading their privacy? 

1. Ask and discuss: The best approach to discussing social media with your child is to open up a line of communication with them without judgment or consequences. Ask them about how they use social media, what they like, what they dislike, and what they use it for. If they’re willing to share, it’s important to keep an open mind and not overreact or to let anxiety take over when they respond. If you want them to feel comfortable sharing with you, there has to be mutual respect and some room to experiment and grow.

2. Consider the benefits: Communicating on social media is how this generation makes friends, deals with problems, finds jobs, and learns about what’s going on in the world. There are limits to what should be experienced behind a screen and what should be done without the aid of technology, but there’s no better way to stay informed and communicate with others in an instant than through social media.

When teaching them, we need to focus on proper use and what’s appropriate and inappropriate. Teach them how to use social media effectively and educate yourself on how best to assist them. Encourage safe behaviours and habits, so they will be able to enjoy learning and sharing on social media, and make the communities they participate in a positive and enjoyable place for others.

3. Learn about the network: After learning about the sites and apps that they use, do your own research. Check the app or network’s about page, reviews, FAQ’s, and consider contacting them if you have unanswered questions.

4. No need for spyware: If you Google 'monitoring your children on social media', you will see results appear with fancy, expensive, spyware. All we can do is educate children to our best ability. We tell children that stealing is bad. We don't follow them around shops making sure they don't steal. We have to hope they understand what is right and what is wrong through what we have taught them.

5. Check privacy settings: Check that your privacy settings for the Internet and Facebook are set to the strictest levels. Depending on which browser you are using, you can adjust the settings directly from the options tab and adjust levels around cookies, third party sites and more. This not only protects the computer user, but also the computer from the threat of viruses. Checking your Facebook privacy settings is easy as well. Simply go to Facebook's policy page to ensure that you are up to speed on its privacy policy and make any changes you deem necessary.

Social media is NOT scary, nor is it bad. What scares people the most is that they don't understand it.

By understanding it, we give ourselves the deep understanding to give the best advice for our children.

We would love to hear any thought or comments your have below about staying safe on social media!