Children and young people have always been influenced by their friends. This can now include people they meet online, which presents particular challenges for parents.
It’s normal for children to want to copy their friends. But now offline peer pressure is Joined by influences from the online world: the friends they chat to on social media or while gaming, and the celebrities they follow on Instagram or YouTube. Of course, a child wanting to copy their peers isn’t necessarily a negative thing. Young people can be inspired by friends and online role models to be creative, take up a sport and eat more healthily, or encouraged to work harder at school. But sometimes online peer pressure can result in young people being pressured into acting in ways they would never think of doing by themselves or in the online world.
Figures show that young people in the UK are generally smoking and drinking less than their parents’ generation*. But a study of 1,500 15- and 16-year-olds in The Journal of Adolescent Health found that social media posts influence young people’s behaviour and can make it more likely a child will experiment with drinking and smoking. The study, by researchers from the University of Southern California, revealed that the more pictures a child sees on social media of their friends drinking or smoking, the more likely they are to do the same. The report concluded: “These results provide evidence that friends’ online behaviours should be considered a viable source of peer influence.
What you can do
Remind your child that both drinking and smoking are illegal if they are underage and that doing either to excess is dangerous. They may feel patronised but, as parents, sometimes it’s our job to state the obvious. (Setting a positive example can be worth a thousand words!) Also, point out that pictures of them partying could still be viewable years later, when their social media feeds may well be looked at by prospective employers and other people they want to impress. Today’s fun night out could be tomorrow’s rejected university application or career setback. This might be a good time to suggest they make sure their social media privacy settings are set to ‘friends only’.
Bullying among school children isn’t a new problem but the internet has created new ways for young people to gang up on others. Encouraging someone to make nasty comments on social media, or joining in to impress your friends, may seem OK at the time. After all, it’s easy to do when you’re not standing in front of the person you’re victimising and everyone else you know is doing it too. Unfortunately, the online bullying follows the person being bullied everywhere they go, even to what should be the safety of their own home.
What you can do
If you discover your child has joined in with online bullying, or has shared a cruel image, talk about why they did it. (explain that it is often difficult to realise you’re being pressured until afterwards but encourage them to learn from the experience. Recognising the signs will help them identify if it happens again – and next time they may choose to act differently. Scotland’s anti-bullying service, Respect Me (respectme.org.uk), has excellent advice for parents of children who have exhibited bullying behaviour. They advise: “You change the way people behave by telling them what they did, why it was wrong, and what you expect instead. “It’s natural to be angry and upset, but it’s important that you remain calm. When you’ve established the reasons behind the bullying, you have to address their behaviour and the impact that it has had. All behaviour carries consequences and your child has to realise that they are accountable for their actions.”
Source: Vodafone Digital Parenting