Thursday 20 June 2019

Should you ban your children from using social media?

Parents Graham Clifford and Carol Hunt argue for and against.

Graham Clifford and his daughter Molly
Graham Clifford and his daughter Molly
Eircom is also gearing up to pitch "aggressively" for State contracts to supply rural households with fibre broadband
British actress Hermione Norris says she'll keep her children off social media for as long as she can, describing it as 'invasive' and asking 'what's wrong with simply talking to somebody?'

Graham Clifford & Carol Hunt

YES says Graham Clifford - A few months ago I decided to ditch Facebook as a social-media tool and now use it, sparingly, for work purposes only.

The constant checking for updates, the depressing video clips, the personal intrusion and the ignorant and negative comments of many made me feel miserable.

So when my eight-year-old daughter Molly told me that a girl in school had a Facebook account and asked when she could 'get' one, I sensitively informed her that online social media is something she can try out when she's 18 - but not before.

I was inspired by British actress Hermione Norris who says that she'll keep her children off social media for as long as she can, describing it as "invasive" and asking "what's wrong with simply talking to somebody?"

My wife Catherine wonders if my dictat is a tad draconian and thinks it might inevitably backfire leading to sulks and arguments. She believes that by banning social media for our three children as they age we might actually mystify it and make it more attractive to them.

I considered her point. Research was called for, and I became a one-man search engine. I logged onto my Facebook account and tried to imagine my children doing the same when they were older with their own accounts.

Read more: Help your teen to avoid the stresses that lurk online

Within a minute, I could see the following titles and links posted on my account: 'Want to beat cancer - share this message with 10 people today'; 'How Irish goal sensation Stephanie Roche was tormented by disgraceful troll'; 'Racist woman on train punched by fellow commuter'; as well as pictures of emaciated animals with a call for their tormentors to be prosecuted.

I found those links within one minute simply by scrolling down my timeline.

The very thought of my children viewing such material as young teenagers sends a shiver up my spine.

British actress Hermione Norris says she'll keep her children off social media for as long as she can, describing it as 'invasive' and asking 'what's wrong with simply talking to somebody?'
British actress Hermione Norris says she'll keep her children off social media for as long as she can, describing it as 'invasive' and asking 'what's wrong with simply talking to somebody?'

Every day we try to protect them from the sinister elements of life while carefully opening their eyes to some realities which they'll need to know about.

To be slapped in the face with such raw images of violence, sex, cruelty and fear must be so confusing for a young mind.

And I worry about the impact social media has on people's ability to form normal face-to-face friendships. I want to teach my children about the importance of talking and listening. In particular, they can learn from our older generation who won't be found on any online chat room.

Read more: Francis Brennan: 'It's time children learnt some manners

Then there's the whole issue of sites such as ask.fm and the scourge of online bullying. I wouldn't send my child unaccompanied into a playground if I knew bullies were loitering there - so why would I allow them to log onto online sites where they might be bullied?

They're clever, confident kids but they're also unassuming and naïve - as they should be at this age and how I hope they will be when in their early teens.

I'm fed up with people moaning about how quickly their children grow up while providing them with the means to 'mature beyond their years'.

No doubt there'll be many people who think this poor fella doesn't understand children if he thinks he can control what they do as teenagers. I've just one answer to that - 'my house, my rules' . Life is precious and so are our children - I would never apologise for doing what I think is right to make their lives happier and their childhoods as care-free as possible.

NO says Carol Hunt

It would be nice, wouldn't it, if we could create exactly the type of world we wanted for our children? One full of the things we, as parents, approve of: good books, long healthy walks, history programmes, tidy bedrooms and lots and lots of broccoli.

But in reality what have we got? Kids who get driven to school, whose free time is spent on X-box and Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, and teens who barely lift their heads up from their Snapchat conversation to tell you they've just become vegetarian.

All parents throughout history have had differing issues with their kids but we're the first to have to teach them how to negotiate their way through the Internet. Which is why I sympathise with Cold Feet actor Hermione Norris when she said last week that she'd like to ban her children from social media for as long as possible.

Read more: Parents don't need to be terrified of the internet

The power of social media is terrifying, especially for those of us who weren't born to it. As parents we tend to be reluctant to engage with what we don't know or understand and Norris is quite clear that she has little time for the modern way of communication; "I don't care for any sort of social media," she said, "I'm not on Facebook either. I'm not even keen on email, it's too invasive."

And fair enough. Norris is an adult and if she chooses not to engage with the world of social media, that's her affair. However, to attempt to ban her children from using it seems not just naive but futile. Whether we like it or not, we need to recognise that social media is here to stay.

Like most other parents, I hear and read about the bullying that children can experience online, the wildly inappropriate apps they can download and the teen sites that can contribute to lack of confidence, depression and even suicide. And, yes, I'd love to say "sorry kids, no social media for you". But of course I can't.

They have friends; they go to school; they go out to clubs, watch TV and interact with their peers in the same way that we did at their age. The difference now is that much of that interaction is done through social media. Both my kids have smartphones, the youngest is 11 and the eldest is (nearly) 14. I thought long and hard about getting them and we have serious ground rules which have to be obeyed.

They're only allowed them at set times. They use them for games, music and to text me and their friends. I monitor what they do. The devices are left on the hall table at night and we have regular conversations about what is appropriate for their age group to access.

My daughter has an Instagram account for sharing pictures of One Direction but neither child has any other social-media accounts. Not yet anyway.

But they most likely will soon and we already discuss together the right and wrong way to use such accounts, how they can protect themselves and when they should report what others are posting.

Read more: Are we destroying our children's privacy by sharing online?

My general rule is never to post anything that they wouldn't be happy seeing printed on the front of a newspaper. Nothing, I keep drumming into them, is private on the internet. And of course, never engage with anyone they don't know - and report anything that involves children being hurt or talked to in a sexual manner.

Social media can be a great tool but an horrific master - we need to teach our kids to use it safely, and in moderation. But attempting to prevent our children from using it will only result in them doing exactly that but without the necessary educational tools to keep them safe.

We owe it to our kids to go on that journey with them, educating ourselves along the way and keeping them safe, happy and engaged with the new world of online communications.

Irish Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Life