Thursday 5 December 2019

Sinead McDonough: 'Parents have a duty to help their children stay safe online'

Though your child might be more digitally up to date than you, it’s not as excuse to be careless with your social media behaviour. Stock Image
Though your child might be more digitally up to date than you, it’s not as excuse to be careless with your social media behaviour. Stock Image

Sinead McDonough

No previous generation has grown up quite so much in the digital world as today's children. We may be quick to tell our kids to pause and think before posting any information on social media but maybe it's time parents examined their own online behaviour.

We regularly hear and speak about youth activity on social media, but we rarely talk about how adults behave online. Research into sexting and sexual behaviour shows that prevalence rates vary across studies involving adult samples, with some reporting rates as low as 30pc and others as high as 81pc. Unfortunately too, cyberbullying is not exclusive to young people.

Studies here in Ireland have highlighted how 10pc of adults have experienced some form of online abuse. Another problem not limited to teenagers is "over-sharing". Parents often remind their children, particularly teens, to restrict what they share online for fear inappropriate content could affect future college/employment opportunities. But are parents taking their own advice? According to one survey by Career Builders, the answer may be no. Because of their social media conduct, employers discarded 51pc of potential applicants, implying our online behaviour could affect our future at any age.

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Many children have an over-abundance of pictures, posts and updates about their lives on social media. This activity is called sharenting and has been defined as "the practice of a parent to regularly use social media to communicate a lot of detailed information about their child".

'Sharenting' is a form of parenting which has ultimately arisen from the online world. They're the parents who post and update their social media about every aspect of their children's lives from their first day at school through to college graduations, birthdays, marriages and everything in between.

The motive behind this activity appears to be to chronicle almost every movement of their children's life. The research in the field has illustrated how consequently, many children have a deluge of pictures and posts about their lives on social media before they can even walk. The phenomenon of sharing and disclosure of information about children by their parents through social media has become a subject of research worldwide.

Published studies in the field of children and youth services have highlighted how parents shape the online identity of their children by sharing posts about them. These studies also found that although adolescents generally approve of sharenting, the practice can at times "lead to frustration among youth, especially if there are contradictions between the image they are trying to construct online and the posts of their parents, which may create embarrassing situations for them".

Adolescents in one study believed that parents should ask permission before they post things about them.

As an adult, the way you use screens influences your child, who is likely to imitate what you're doing. The messages parents give to their children about how they use screens and their roles in everyday life warrants consideration. Parents can set a good example for children by engaging in healthy screen time.

For example, if you receive a text message or updates on social media while talking to someone, specifically your child, wait until the conversation is over before you check it out. Avoid if possible bringing your phone, tablet or laptop into your bedroom at night. It is a good idea to charge all devices in a common area of the house, and teach young people to do the same. Parents can also safeguard their digital footprint by being careful about the photos/comments they post and the photos/comments they are tagged in.

It is essential that as parents we keep the lines of communication around online behaviours and safety open by talking about social media use with our children.

This can encourage a child to disclose their experiences online. Though your child might be more digitally up to date than you, it's not an excuse to be careless with your social media behaviour. Parents can teach children respect in all areas of life - this starts at home and can be carried through to childrens' virtual lives.

Irish Independent

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