Fostering safer social media use

Jun 20, 2024 | Blog, Cyber Parenting - Social Media

In May 2024, the EU opened a formal investigation into Facebook and Instagram, accusing the platforms Meta owned of causing addictive behaviour in children. With the summer holidays around the corner, it’s a given that children will be spending more time on screens. But what can parents do to encourage safe social media use?

The European Commission, the EU’s tech regulator, said it suspected Facebook and Instagram “may stimulate behavioural addictions in children” and lead to the so-called “rabbit hole” effect — which occurs when users are fed content they’re found to enjoy based on an algorithm, in some cases leading to more dangerous content.

Ofcom highlights another concerning trend: children are spending more time in front of screens than ever before. Its report from April 2024 shows that 34 per cent of parents of children aged three-to-four claim it is difficult to control their child’s screentime, with this percentage rising to 49 per cent for children aged 16 to 17. Often, this does not only concern the number of hours spent online but also the content consumed.

Safe searching

Ensuring that children only access appropriate content online is a primary concern. The Google SafeSearch feature can be a valuable tool in this regard. By activating SafeSearch Filtering, parents can significantly reduce the risk of children encountering harmful material. Simply go to Google, click on ‘Search settings’ in the settings function, and enable SafeSearch filtering.

Similar features are available directly on social platforms. Instagram’s Family Centre allows parents to view the accounts that they supervise  and manage supervision settings. Family Centre also links to an education hub, where parents can find resources from experts on building positive online habits with teens.

App-ly knowledge

According to Ofcom, 24 per cent of five-to-seven-year-olds now own a smartphone and 76 per cent use a tablet. It’s therefore not surprising that children often know more about social media than their parents do. To keep up with their online habits, it’s essential parents understand the apps their children use most frequently.

TikTok, for instance, has over one billion users, with 16 per cent of toddlers having been exposed to it and 32.5 per cent of users being aged between ten and 19. However, the platform’s Family Pairing feature allows parents to link their child’s account to their own, giving them control over what their child sees and engages with.

Get talking

While you’ll want to keep a watchful eye over your child’s time online, it’s important they don’t feel excluded from the conversation. Encourage your child to explore the online world with you, and show an interest in how they spend time online.

Set boundaries together. Apps that run on an algorithm such as TikTok and Instagram are designed to keep people scrolling, so get your child involved in discussions about when they can head online and for how long. Making screen-free time a family occasion, where everyone puts away their devices and opt for some quality time, will make it feel a little easier.

Drizzly days and six long weeks of summer will make screen time inevitable for most children. However, it’s crucial parents are wise to their children’s internet use and are aware of safe surfing options.

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