Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Educating Children about Social Media - What's The Point?

On Safer Internet Day 2013, Derek Howie tackles the increasing prevalence of underage social media use.

‘You’re not allowed to use Facebook until you’re 13 anyway - what’s the point in discussing it?’

Unbelievably, that was the response I got when I told someone I was going to write about underage use of social media for Safer Internet Day.

What’s the point? While we're on the subject, what’s the point in talking to under-16s about sex? And what’s the point in talking to under-18s about alcohol and drugs?

The point, in case he still hasn’t realised, is to impart knowledge and, hopefully, help children make more informed decisions. 

Hoping something will go away, or in this case asking ‘what’s the point?’, is precisely the sort of mentality that has seen British teenage pregnancy rates consistently remain among the highest in western Europe.

Unsurprisingly, one of the main ways to reduce teenage pregnancies is through education - and the same goes for social media.

Now, let’s not pretend there aren’t risks associated with social media. Of course there are.

But we can’t ignore the fact that underage children are increasingly joining social network websites like Facebook and Twitter - often without adult supervision.

Talking of facts, an expert at the London School of Economics recently estimated one million nine to 12-year-olds already use Facebook, despite the fact they are meant to be 13 before becoming members.

Do we ignore those one million children? Ask ‘what’s the point?’.

Of course we don’t. We confront the issue. We listen to the children (god forbid) and find out why they are using social media.

Most importantly though, we educate them.

We discuss the risks and the dangers associated with social media, we explain the legalities surrounding it, and we advise the children on how to stay safe online.

And we don’t stop with social media. We talk about Internet safety, personal data and even sexual exploitation online.

Late last year, I saw for myself just how important, and divisive, this issue is.

fatBuzz welcomed a primary 7 pupil in to the office for a day’s work experience, and while he was here, he asked our Facebook community whether or not he should be allowed to use social media.

The response was fascinating.

Unsurprisingly, there were a wide range of views. Some suggested that children should definitely be allowed to use Facebook, but only with parental supervision.

Others said that social media should be taught in schools, while some even suggested he should get off a computer and play more football.

I didn’t agree with all the comments, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it, does it?

In England, the 'dangers' of social media are currently being taught to schoolchildren as part of a pilot project launched by the Information Commissioner's Office.

If the pilot proves a success, it will be rolled out in schools nationwide.

There is already a growing consensus that the way children are being taught information technology in schools is in need of a radical overhaul.

Could social media be taught alongside coding in the new curriculum? I don’t see why not.

Regardless of our opinions on social media, there is one undeniable fact - we all have a role to play in ensuring that every child is safe online.

Do you think children under 13 should be allowed to use social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter? If so, what age do you think is appropriate? How do you think we can teach children about Internet safety?

Join the discussion on fatBuzz’s Facebook and Twitter pages and join the Safer Internet Day conversation using the hashtag #SID2013.

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  1. I think it's essential that children get taught social media - it is going to be so important in their lives.
    My 10-year-old son has just started a blog. I'm supervising but he's having fun and he's learning so much. I have been impressed by how quickly he has picked it up, much quicker than any adult who starts a blog.
    Kids need to become so comfortable with social media that the implications of posting, and their personal filters, are automatic.

  2. Hi Ellen. Sorry, I'm just getting back to you - I just noticed your comment.

    I couldn't agree with you more. Whether we agree that children should be using social media or not, we must realise the importance of offering some form of social media training to at least make them aware of the risks involved. As you rightly say, it is going to be incredibly important in their lives in the future.

    That's great news regarding your son's blog and I'm glad he's enjoying it so much. What is the link and I will have a look at it?

  3. In Fife the police run an event called Safer Fifer for schools, focussing on lots of aspects of safety. They use a simulated social network called Neeburs 4 U to teach good practice in using social media. I'm proud to say I helped make it & my own kids have seen it in action.

  4. Colin

    Thanks for sharing this, good to hear that schools are embracing social media and educating children about the dangers and the benefits of the tools.

  5. Unbelievably, that was the response I got when I get more instagram followers free fast told someone I was going to write about underage use of social media for Safer Internet Day.

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