Is social media harming children?
I think recent comments from the children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, about the avalanche of pressure on social media for 8 to 11-year olds ring true. The ‘Life in Likes’ report reflects her view that children who shouldn’t be able to access social media sites under the age of 13 are doing so, and are suffering under pressure to “chase likes”.
It’s the place where they often feel most negative about themselves. Can I look like a celebrity? Will my picture be popular? This is all just at that transition time between primary and secondary, when young people are exploring their autonomy and thinking about who they want to be.
Research indicates that parents continue to be the number one influence on their children, either positively or negatively. This is daunting, but it should also give us confidence that if we model good behaviour and a healthy attitude to social media it will have an impact on our children and young people. We need to challenge ourselves. What does our own usage look like in the home? Are we saying: “Social media is indispensable, and I can’t manage without it?” They are picking up on that, so we have to think about not just what we put in place for our children, but what we do in our own lives.
The report has recommendations for the government, parents and social media companies. What’s interesting in its comment to social media companies is that the authors sit on the fence slightly. They basically say to either make what you’re offering more accessible and engaging for 8 to 11s, or actually stick to your policy of not allowing under 13s on social media. My personal thinking is that children shouldn’t be on social media until they’re 13. I think that’s why there is a guideline for that age. But we need to recognise that many children – including our children’s peers – are already using these platforms.
Some great research has been published recently, but often it takes time to turn this into resources or practical support. The children’s commissioner has set up a Digital 5 A Day campaign that you can find at childrenscommissioner.gov.uk. It aims to give children and parents “easy to follow, practical steps to achieve a healthy and balanced digital diet”.
A great tool is also available from O2 and the NSPCC. It’s based on a really simple acronym: TEAM (talk, explore, agree, manage). It advises us to:
- Talk to young people about social media. We’ve got to have conversations with them because they are digital natives.
- Explore the benefits of social media to bring things out into the light.
- Agree rules together around what we’re going to do and allow.
- Manage settings so that you know what your children can and can’t access. If my eldest wants an app on her phone, she needs my permission to get it.
Ali Campbell is a youth and children’s ministry consultant and runs The Resource.
Faith in everyday life
Care for the Family has launched a new initiative called the Kitchen Table Project. It is designed to equip parents to share their faith with children aged under 11 in everyday life.
The project includes a number of resources including online tips, blogs, a podcast and free videos that encourage conversations between parents and children. Further resources will be released later, including a book, church toolkit, event tour and video course.
Care for the Family introduced the project in response to recently exposed trends around family-based evangelism. Only 50 per cent of children growing up in Christian homes keep their faith. And while 95 per cent of families acknowledged the role of parents in teaching their children about Christianity, 92 per cent felt ill-equipped to do so.
Katharine Hill, the charity’s UK director, said: “Many parents just haven’t thought about nurturing their children’s faith. By the time they have invested in their physical, emotional, social and intellectual development, there often isn’t much time or energy left to consider the spiritual. Even for those whom spiritual development is a priority, it can be hard to know where to start; especially when family schedules are so busy.”
The initiative officially launched on 20th January at an event in Cardiff, where the charity is based. To find out more visit careforthefamily.org.uk.
"Children who do not attend school can become hidden, which means that we are less able to help and protect them”