The use of social media and the dangers of cyber safety for young people is not a new topic, yet it is an issue that is consistently raising its head. Most recently a study by the Children’s Commissioner  reported that one third of internet users are under the age of 18, and that even though age restrictions are placed on popular social media platforms under 13s are signing up at a steady rate.
From as young as eight years old, children are opening themselves to the world of social media and by age 10 are checking their accounts for notifications continually throughout the day. Most popular channels are Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Watsapp.
At such an important developmental time of young peoples’ lives, this is of course cause for concern as limited self-regulation and susceptibility to peer pressure is common in pre-teen and teenage years. Moreover, uninformed and impressionable young people are leaving themselves open to risk cyberbullying, harassment, grooming, sexting, social anxiety and what has been coined ‘Facebook depression’.
In a memorable episode of Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker depicted a world that functioned on social media likes and ratings, leaving the protagonist open to extreme stress, anxiety and desperation. It seems that young people today are experiencing this in real time, according to Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner.
"They find themselves chasing likes, chasing validation, being very anxious about their appearance online and offline and feeling that they can't disconnect - because that will be seen as socially damaging."
So what can we be doing to support in and out of school? What can we be teaching our children to help them understand the digital world and build their resilience to cope?
Start teaching whilst they are young
In a world where movement is fast-paced and threats are reaching people at a younger age one of the main things we can do is to start preparing our children for the digital world early. That is not to say we need to introduce them to it – nor that we can control when they get introduced to it by peers – but we can start to introduce the concept of cyber safety in KS2. We can help protect our children by teaching them simple lessons to follow such as thinking twice before acting, only ‘friending’ people that you already know in real life and being nice to one another. These are all moral lessons we are taught at a young age about the real world, why not start to translate them into the digital one?
Monitoring use of social media
We can’t always know how often social media accounts are being checked or used, especially ones designed to be more private in messaging such as Snapchat, but we can help protect young people by having filters within our connectivity settings. Many schools block social media websites and apps if logged into the wifi system. If a child is appearing distant, not themselves and is notably using their phone a lot, talk to them. There is a strong chance something is happening in their lives they need support with.
Unearth the true nature of social media
It is no secret to the informed population that social media is fickle. We put our best selves forward, which is sometimes even a fake self, to portray an image of our lives that we want the world to see. This is not accurate. Many celebrities have spoken out about the dangers of photo-shopped images and the unrealistic expectations it sets for people across the globe.
Nothing is private, and the things you post may come back to bite you later. No matter how secure your young person thinks their settings are, nothing is ever fully private to just them.
There are cyberbullies, there are trolls, and these may be people who know you or don’t know you depending on what platform you are on. It is important to guard yourself against some of the responses you may get online, but also to talk about the messages you are receiving. Moreover, we need to be teaching our young people that cyberbullying, in any format, is not ok and that the consequences of doing this are becoming more real as the technology develops. Legislation to stop harassment or threatening behaviour can be applied to cases of cyberbullying.
Acknowledge the positives of social media
In teaching our children about the dangers of the internet, it is important that we pepper these with the positives too. Social media has been found to have positive impacts on communication, technological understanding and connecting with friends. In a world focussed on these platforms we should be celebrating our young people being able to express themselves, but in a healthy and safe way.
And if you want to step outside of the digital lifestyle, a detox (especially as a family) is never a bad thing!
 Schurgin O’Keeffe, G., Clarke-Pearson, K & Council on Communications and Media (2011). Clinical report – The impact of social media on children, adolescents, and families. American Academy of Pediatrics, 127(4), 800-804.
 Selfhout MHW, Branje SJT, Delsing M, ter Bogt TFM, Meeu WHJ (2009). Different types of Internet use, depression, and social anxiety: the role of perceived friendship quality. J Adolesc., 32(4), 819 – 833