Kids online need a BIGGER SHIELD

opinion February 11, 2019 01:00

By The Nation

Between bullies and sexual predators, measures in place regarding social-media content are proving woefully inadequate



Young people’s use of social media has an undeniable dark side that’s often harder to deal with than the online fanaticism of adults. It’s not all travel photos, party pics and other “cool” stuff. Because of the variance in age, lifestyles and generational mindset, today’s youngsters have an entirely different perception than their elders have of what they and their peers can and cannot do on the Internet, and that means measures taken to monitor and control use have to be considerate and well thought through.

There are a multitude of measures already in place, of course, but we see alarming signs indicating much more must be done. 

Surveys indicate that many young people feel overwhelming pressure and inadequacy when they engage with the social networks. Meanwhile online bullying is prevalent, eating away at self-esteem and, worse, resulting in harmful mental conditions.

The central challenge is how to protect children without making them feel they’re being controlled. The best expert advice seems to be to talk to them and keep talking to them in as friendly, considerate and understanding a way as possible, and not just the parents but also every other figure of authority.

Concern over children’s use of social media and its effects on their mental health has increased markedly in recent years. 

In Britain, a girl’s suicide sparked concerted efforts to guard children against potentially dangerous content, particularly because she herself had expressed views about controversial content regarding depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide.

In the debate on protective measures there is a clash between the vulnerability of children and free access to information. There is a grey area in the discussion over how and whether certain kinds of content should even be made available to youth. 

There’s nothing to stop a reasonably intelligent child from searching out and finding content that those in authority seek to shield them from. They can easily link up with adult “friends” on social media discussing dubious content, even as they lack the maturity to properly understand or cope with it.

What we need are measures that help youngsters work out how they should behave and be treated by others online. Kids need to understand the risks and dangers involved in using social media and learn how to navigate those risks. They should know never to post personal information online and what to do if ever someone asks for it.

That is the appalling problem of predators seeking financial gain or worse, but there are other issues in need of urgent attention. A survey in Britain found that 11 per cent of kids 12 to 15 years old had been bullied on social media. 

In another, 57 per cent of people 16 to 25 years old said social media placed “overwhelming pressure” on them to succeed in life, and 46 per cent said they felt “inadequate” in comparison to their peers online.

The social networks have drastically worsened the age-old problem of youths feeling pressured to outdo their friends. 

Parents are the obvious choice to alleviate that pressure. Adults, unfortunately, feel the same envy of others when they log on, but parents, despite not growing up with social media, are surely in the best position to make a difference. It’s like buying a car: Accidents are relatively rare, but everyone ought to also have insurance.