My kids are tech kids. They love watching the TV, iPads, YouTube and generally anything screen related. I don’t object to them using technology at all, in fact I embrace it. They have to understand it and know how to use it. But when it comes to social media and our kids, should we be cautious? At what age should we start to worry, or be concerned, or limit their screen time? Whether we like it or not, their future will revolve around technology.
It’s that last bit that scares me.
I recently attended a talk organized by our school. The talk was by social media law expert, Emma Sadlier of The Digital Law Company.
I attended the talk more as a mommy blogger, rather than as a parent. I was interested to hear a professional talk on the subject. At the back of my mind I always tell myself that my girls are still young, I don’t have to worry too much about all the bad stuff on the net, yet.
I mean, I watch them watch YouTube, right? I put the PG rating setting on so they’ll be okay, right? I’m a blogger, I run a parenting blog. I know social media, I will be able to protect them when the time comes, right?
I was shocked by the scary, very real, very ‘people next door’ cases that Emma referenced in her talk. As the talk was aimed at parents of teenagers, most of the stories she told were related to that age group. She highlighted the fact that kids are kids, they don’t understand the far-reaching repercussions of what they are doing online. The fact that their actions online now can actually haunt them for the rest of their lives. Such is the reality of our modern tech world where nothing is ever forgotten.
I’m not going to go into the details of her talk but if you ever get the chance to hear her talk, you really will be doing yourself a favour!
It got me thinking though, if we are living in a digital age where a two-year-old knows how to operate a smart phone better than some pensioners, then what is the right age for us as their parents to start worrying about protecting them from ‘the bad stuff’ online?
When In Doubt, Ask!
I decided to ask the professionals. I made contact with Sarah Hoffman of the Digital Law Company, one of Emma’s colleagues. She agreed to let me pick her brain with some questions about social media and our kids that relate specifically to younger children. I find there is quite a lot of information available for older children and teenagers, but I want to specifically consider those children under the age of ten-years-old.
Our discussion was more of an actual conversation rather than a question and answer session so here are the key messages I want to share that I think all parents of small children need to keep in mind with regards to screen time, social media and our protecting our children online.
We all love sharing pictures of our kids on social media. I think that something a lot of us don’t realise though is how social media affects our parenting. One thing we need to keep in mind when it comes to social media and our kids is that the more private you are, the more right you have to privacy. If you share pictures of your children on social media constantly, then you can’t be offended or upset about a lack of privacy.
As an example, we can refer to two former Miss South Africa ladies who are both moms and are both very much still in the spotlight on social media. Lea-Ann Liebenberg documents her children’s lives on her social media accounts. In contrast, Vanessa Carreira only shows her children in silhouette, never their faces. Now I am not judging either of these ladies, but they have both taken very different approaches to privacy.
I think the point is that as parents we need to think about how we are responsible for our children’s privacy. They are too young to make that decision for themselves so it is up to us to protect their privacy to the degree that we are comfortable with, whilst at the same time, not losing sight of the fact that it is their life.
As parents, we can almost all admit to plonking our kids down with the iPad when we need five minutes, or ten minutes … or half an hour. Whilst we do feel a twinge of guilt, we usually just push that guilt aside in order to achieve whatever task we deem important in that moment. And it works.
Interesting results from a poll I ran on Instagram:
So what Constitutes Excessive Screen Time?
The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) are the leaders in research when it comes to screen time.
According to the AAP, children over the age of two years old, and preschoolers should not have more than two hours of screen time per day.
*Here are a few of the health issues that could affect children who indulge in excessive screen time:
- sleeping problems (caused by the blue light emitted by all electronic screens)
- concentration issues
- fine motor skill development delays
- exposure to cyber-bullying
- exposure to inappropriate content on the internet
Let’s remember that it’s okay to not entertain our kids all the time. Don’t be afraid to let them be bored!
Bullying impacts all of us at some point in our lives. Cyber-bullying is one of the biggest problems our society faces today. I asked Sarah what we as parents can do if we feel that our children have been a victim of cyber-bullying. Her advice was the following:
- Take screenshots of the bullying as evidence
- Report the problem to the school (if applicable)
- Block the bully on the social media channels they are operating on.
- Remove yourself/your child from the Whatsapp group where a lot of this bullying seems to happen.
- Confront the bully or their parents if the bullying takes the form of a criminal offence.
The most horrific forms of online bullying have been reported on social media networks that a lot of us parents haven’t even heard of. Apps such as Ooh.me, Yik Yak and even Musical.ly. They all make use of internet anonymity although these apply more to children over the age of 10.
Tools To Protect Our Children Online
The good news is that there are a number of software programs and apps for parents to monitor social media use. In fact there are many different ways to help keep our children safe when they are online. Sarah recommended the following:
There are many more products out there, but these are the ones that Sarah specifically referenced.
I recently heard about another internet security product that sounds amazing, although I haven’t yet tried it myself, that is Lucid View. Another South African manufactured product, it is created by a dad in an effort to serve the purposes of a whole family, using clean internet, and keeping children safe. Their product claims to be able to cut the internet to certain apps at certain times of the day. I think this sounds awesome! I will personally be looking into this product. It sounds very exciting.
What Does The Future Hold?
After reading all that, I’m quite sure many of you want to remove your entire profiles from social media and hope that it all just goes away. Sadly, I don’t believe that it ever will. The way I see it, the only way to really protect our children when it comes to online safety is to educate them and ourselves.
Here are a few ways to do that, most of which are recommended by the Digital Law Company:
- Lay the ground rules right from the beginning when it comes to screen time, what social media networks they can be on, and how much access you expect to have to their devices.
- Location services – TURN OFF LOCATION SERVICES on all apps.
- Learn the apps the kids are using. You don’t have to use them, but you do need to know what they are about so that you can help your kids to stay safe.
- Create an open door policy. When (not if, but when) your children come across inappropriate content, they need to know that they can come to you and you won’t freak out at them.
- When the time comes for your children to have a phone, make use of a ‘SmartPhone’ contract between you and them so that everyone knows what is expected of each other. The Digital Law company have an example available on their blog, you can access it by clicking here.
- Model Good Phone Behaviour. I can’t stress this enough. If our children learn by example in all other aspects of their lives, then they will also model us in the way we use our phones. We need to show them what is appropriate, what is not, what is excessive and when it’s time to put the phones down.
- As parents, apply your privacy settings to your social media profiles.
In my personal opinion, one of the most important things we need to do is to teach our children. Teach them what is right and what is wrong. Teach your daughters to say, “No” when asked to send pictures of themselves. And please, teach your sons that it is wrong to ask!
How Does This Apply To Our Everyday Life?
As a mommy blogger I have chosen the more extreme version of privacy. This is my choice, and I’m very glad that I made it. This doesn’t mean I don’t get jealous that I can’t show off my beautiful daughters on my blog. However, it’s a choice we as their parents made. The girls do get upset because I won’t let them do unboxing videos, and why can’t they be on the blog, why can’t they be on YouTube? They don’t get it. But that’s okay, I can live with that. I am their mom and at this age they don’t know what their future will hold. It is up to me to make these decisions for them. .
Just as it is our responsibility to teach our children about manners, education, diet, religion, and all the other aspects that make up our society, this also applies to social media and our kids. It is up to us to educate them and guide them down the right path.
Thank you to Sarah for taking the time to help me with this post.
* This list is a combined list from a number of different sources, not only the AAP.