Social Media: Benefits & Risks

Understanding Social Media

Key points

  • Social media is a big part of social and creative life for many teenagers and children.
  • Social media benefits include connection, learning and creativity.
  • Risks include exposure to inappropriate content, cyberbullying and data breaches.
  • Written guidelines can help your child get benefits while using social media responsibly, respectfully and safely.

Many social media platforms have age restrictions. For example, to have a Facebook or Instagram account you need to be 13 years old.

Internet safety for children aged 9-11 years and internet safety for teenagers is about identifying and managing risks and also protecting your data and privacy.

About social media for children and teenagers

Social media platforms popular among young people include  FacebookTwitterWhatsAppInstagramPinterestSnapchat and TikTok.

Online multiplayer games, like World of Warcraft, League of Legends, Clash of Clans and The Sims are also important social media spaces for young people. And gaming chat sites are popular ways for young people to connect with others who share their particular gaming interests.

Using social media means uploading and sharing content. This includes:

  • creating online profiles
  • posting comments or chatting
  • uploading photos and videos
  • reacting to or ‘liking’ other people’s posts
  • sharing links
  • tagging photos and content
  • creating and sharing game modifications
  • remixing or changing existing content and sharing it.

Social media: benefits

Social media is a big part of many young people’s social and creative lives.

Children and teenagers use social media to have fun, make and maintain friendships, share interests, explore identities and develop relationships with family. It’s an extension of their offline and face-to-face interactions. For older teenagers especially, it’s often a key part of how they connect with friends.

Social media can connect children and teenagers to online global communities based on shared interests. These might be support networks – for example, for young people with disability or medical conditions, LGBTQI teenagers, or children from particular cultural backgrounds. Or they might be sites for commenting on and sharing content about particular interests like games, TV series, music or hobbies.

Your child can get many other benefits from using social media:

  • Digital media literacy: exploring and experimenting on social media can help your child build knowledge and skills to enjoy online activities and avoid online risks.
  • Collaborative learning: your child can use social media to share educational content, either informally or in formal school settings.
  • Creativity: your child can be creative with profile pages, photos and video, and modifications for games.
  • Mental health and wellbeing: connecting with extended family and friends and taking part in local and global online communities can give your child a sense of connection and belonging.

Social media: risks

Social media can also pose risks. For your child, these risks include:

  • being exposed to inappropriate or upsetting content, like mean, aggressive, violent or sexual comments or images
  • uploading inappropriate content, like embarrassing or provocative photos or videos of themselves or others
  • sharing personal information with strangers – for example, phone numbers, date of birth or location
  • cyberbullying
  • exposure to too much targeted advertising and marketing
  • data breaches, like having their data sold on to other organisations.

Managing social media risks for children and teenagers

Talking about social media use
Talking is the best way to protect your child from social media risks and ensure their internet safety. Talking gives you the opportunity to help your child:

  • work out how they want to treat other people and be treated online – for example, you can encourage your child to make only positive comments
  • understand the risks involved in using social media – for example, your child might be tagged in an embarrassing photo taken at a party
  • learn how to navigate the risks – for example, if your child posts an identifiable selfie, they can reduce risk by not including any other personal information
  • learn what to do if people ask for personal details, are mean or abusive online, post embarrassing photos of your child, or share information that links back to them.

Finding out more about social media

Social media platforms and functionality are always changing so it’s a good idea to keep up to date with the social media your child uses. You could ask your child what platforms are popular and which ones your child likes. You could also get your child to show you how they work.

Thinking about age recommendations

Many social media platforms have age restrictions, which often aren’t enforced. It can be tricky if your child’s friends are using social media platforms before they’re old enough and your child wants to do the same.

If you want your child to wait, here are some options you could think about:

  • Could you compromise? What if your child uses a family social media account until they’re old enough for their own? This could give your child a way to connect with friends with your help to navigate social media.
  • Could your child use a child-friendly social media platform, like YouTube Kids or Messenger Kids? These have stronger safety settings and age-appropriate content.

What about banning social media?

Social media is becoming increasingly embedded in apps, games, websites and even learning environments, so it’s hard to ban, even for younger children. And if you ban social media, your child might be more tempted to check it out when they’re away from home. This means you miss the opportunity to teach your child how to navigate social media risks and behave respectfully on social media.

Setting up social media guidelines

Some written guidelines about social media can help your child get the benefits of social media while using it responsibly, respectfully and safely. This agreement could be part of a family media plan. If these guidelines include your social media use as well as your child’s, you can be a positive role model.

Here are some things your guidelines could include.

Using social media
This might cover basics like:

  • when it’s OK to use social media and how long your child can spend on social media
  • whether it’s OK to use social media during homework time, family meals and so on
  • where it’s OK to use social media – for example, only in family areas of the house, not bedrooms.

Posting content and comments
It’s important for your child to agree to:

  • not uploading or sharing inappropriate messages, images and video
  • showing respect in posts and when sharing content – for example, if it’s not OK to say or do something face to face, it’s not OK online
  • seeking consent before posting images of others.

Protecting privacy
It’s a good idea to go through social media privacy guidelines and settings with your child.

Your child can protect their privacy by agreeing to:

  • not share personal information like phone numbers, location and date of birth with strangers online, or with people they don’t know personally
  • not add personal details like phone numbers or date of birth to private profiles
  • regularly check privacy and location settings, especially on mobile phones
  • keep passwords and log-in details private and not share these with friends
  • log out after using public computers
  • disable features like posting to multiple social media sites at once.

Staying safe on social media
Safety essentials for your child include:

  • blocking and reporting people they don’t know or people who post upsetting comments or content
  • not clicking on pop-ups – some pop-ups that seem safe can lead to pornography sites or ask for personal or financial information
  • accepting friend requests only from people whose identity they know
  • taking screenshots of concerning things they see online, and talking to a trusted adult about them.

Social media is good in many ways. It keeps us in contact with friends and family, It updates us on important information that is relevant to our lifestyles and it can be a great place for watching content that you may never find otherwise.

​There are many plus points for social media, in fact its great when its used for the right reasons. There have been countless times that I have used social media to find the perfect gift, or to link up with an old friend from the past.

​In theory the concept of using Social Media to manage much of our online interaction, isn’t it worth while taking a stop and looking at how it can impact us in a negative way?

​Social media users can spend hours on average each day, searching, watching, liking and messaging!

​Most of us interact in a respectful and decent manner, using these many different platforms to enhance their experience of life, whereas others may us it for a much more sinister reason.  Social media with all its bells and aires, has replaced much of the human interaction that many of us have grown up being used to.

Try for a moment to imagine that many young people have never known a society that existed outside of social media. They were born with a device in their hands and not a silver spoon!​

Parents pacifying their children with devices has become the norm, with many children growing increasingly dependent of using ‘a device’ to communicate. Even more concerning is the increase in users with special needs using social media as a way of finding and building relationships, that are not always positive.

​Furnishing our children with the latest device has replaced the quality communication that is needed to aid build values and beliefs that children and families need to survive.

There are millions of families right now, sitting at a dinner table cluttered with devices, disconnecting the user from reality.

Although we have to accept that ‘Being online’ is the future, we must also monitor its use. Interestingly, recently one of the biggest mobile phone manufacturers upgraded all of their handsets to enable the user to monitor all mobile use. May be they are trying to tell us something, but are we listening?

Social Media has also become a platform for an increasing amount of crime and abuse, with many users reporting a rise in Grooming, manipulation and fraud. There is also a significant increase in the amount of Cyber Bullying taking place online. It is therefore a now a real concern as to the impact of online abuse.

​There is also an increase in young people using social media to provoke violence between other gangs. Music videos and abusive messages are shared on social media to attract the attention of others. There have been countless violent incidents that started on social media. Although the police are aware of many of these incidents, very little seems to be happening in the way of restricting specific material which is deemed to be of a violent nature. Young people also have full access to pornographic material at the touch of a button. This can leave young people confused and unsure about how to value a meaningful relationship.​