Keeping our kids safe on social media and encouraging responsible online behaviour can only be effective if we truly understand how kids are using the digital space and their thoughts and concerns about being a digital citizen. We also need to understand their attitude to cyber safety efforts, what they think of parents grasp on what they do or don’t know and how they respond to the boundaries that may or may not be set by schools and parents.
Recently I had a detailed interview with a teen boy about attitudes to social media safety. Today I will give a short overview of the findings from recent discussions carried out with a group of a dozen 14 and 15 year old teens. This may only be a small number, however it is also representative of a group of kids whose parents took an active interest in their online use, had rules and boundaries, but also admitted to feeling unable to adequately keep up or monitor all of their teens online interactions.
With this particular group the most used apps were Facebook (for private messaging only, not so much status updates) and Instagram. Other popular apps were: Keek (a video sharing app), Tumblr, Snapchat and Twitter. There wasn’t a lot of mention of Kik with this group who tended to use Facebook messaging instead, sighting it ‘easier’ to use than Kik. Whilst this was their preferred messaging app at the moment they also admitted that this could change at anytime.
Parents knowledge of their online behaviours
Most teens admitted that their parents knew a little of what they did online but not everything. In saying that, they also largely agreed that their parents trusted them to make good choices online. They felt their parents were almost resigned to not being able to keep up with everything they did, but felt their parents were happy enough that they would be doing the right thing.
The main messages from parents
The main messages from parents concerned the safety of the kids and parents would give this information by way of passing comments and ongoing conversations. Parents of kids this age seem to hope that the groundwork of teaching is done and that the kids will now have the skills to make good choices. There is no longer any real monitoring of the kids interactions once they reach 14 unless there had been a particular incident. The most heard comments from parents were regarding information giving and privacy for both physical safety and their digital reputation, such as “be careful who you talk to and don’t talk to strangers”, “Only share information with people you know” and “don’t post stuff that embarrasses you”.
Concerns about particular apps
I asked them if concerns raised in the media regarding particular apps influenced their decisions to use those apps. Whilst one or two answered that they had heeded warnings about sights like ask.fm and qooh.me, it was more having witnessed some of the negative elements of these sites that influenced their decisions not to ‘hang out’ there, rather than any urging by parents or cyber safety teaching. They unanimously agreed however that it was not the sites that were dangerous but the kinds of things people did on them.
“people telling me not to go on sites makes no difference. It is experience that changes your perceptions”
“No, its got nothing to do with the site. Its how you use it that matters”
“I take care of myself coz I don’t do stupid stuff and I don’t listen to stupid people”
Whilst none of the kids admitted to sending a sexually explicit photo, four had been sent photos without asking for them. Two of those respondents had shown someone else the photo. They seemed to have an understanding of the implications of photos being shared and shown publicly and thus sending photos of themselves wasn’t something these kids thought they would do.
Relationship with social media
Whilst they spoke more of the positive elements of social media they did admit to sometimes feeling overwhelmed and tired of being switched on all the time. Here were some typical responses
“Checking my social media updates and feeds is the first thing I do in the morning”
“I sometimes get sick of social media and find it exhausting trying to keep up”
“I love the interacting online as I feel I can be myself more”
“I love getting new likes and followers as it makes me feel better about myself”
Reaching out for help
Not surprisingly, all of the respondents answered that they would probably tell a friend first if they experienced something negative online. Half said they would turn to a parent and a small number said a teacher, but only one said they would most likely keep it to themselves.
How does this help?
In terms of teaching and parenting I think it helps us to know that kids are getting a grasp of the basic principals of keeping safe and responsible, but we as parents need to keep reinforcing these elements and concern ourselves with ensuring they have the skills and understanding to stay safe no matter what sites they visit. Once again keeping the communication open must be paramount. Whilst these kids admitted that their parents didn’t have a knowledge of everything they did or everyplace they hung out, there was a definite sense that they still had heard a lot of the warnings and messages both from parents and from their own experiences online. These kids were keen not to experience some of the negative situations they had witnessed by others online and thus felt their parents were right to have faith that they would make the right choices.
I think the largely positive experience of these kids and knowing that their parents played an active role in teaching them the skills and behaviours, reiterates the benefits of parental involvement in a child’s online interactions from a young age to give them the best chance of becoming a safe and responsible digital citizen.