Social media can be a great outlet for teens to express themselves, share with friends and build social skills. Navigating social media in a safe and healthy way, however, takes a certain level of maturity. Introducing children to social media at too young an age without adult supervision could invite issues ranging from cyberbullying and teen suicide to child sex trafficking. Parents and teachers should teach children how to use social media responsibly, if at all, and should always supervise use by minors.
The risk of getting cyberbullied on social media is very real for today’s children. Cyberbullying can involve verbal, mental or sexual abuse via devices such as cellphones and computers. A cyberbully could pick on a victim through text messages, apps, forums, games and social media sites. Cyberbullying could cause many negative mental health effects, including depression, humiliation, shame, guilt, anxiety, low self-esteem, trauma and suicidal thoughts. Statistics show about 15% of students ages 12 to 18 experience cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying can be more difficult to spot than traditional bullying. Since it can occur in silence, with the victim simply reading hurtful content or messages, parents and supervisors may not notice it is happening until it is too late. Supervised social media use could increase the odds of an adult noticing cyberbullying behavior in time to intervene and prevent serious mental health effects. Parents and teachers should teach kids to report cyberbullying right away, whether they are the victims or not.
Internet Sex Crimes Targeting Children
Another serious risk of unsupervised child use of social media is encountering a sexual predator. Sexual predators may create fake profiles on social media sites to target young children. These profiles may lie about the person’s age, sex and identity. Popular social sites such as Facebook and Instagram can present opportunities for adults to contact, interact with and even arrange meetings with young children.
Children and teens are at serious risk of becoming victims of crimes facilitated through social media, including kidnapping, rape, murder, sex trafficking and child pornography. Most kids do not fully understand the risks of communicating with strangers via the internet or even meeting up with them in person. Many kids – especially those who have already faced cyberbullying – may turn to friendly strangers online to vent or find solace. Unfortunately, these online relationships can end in tragedy.
Parents and teachers should express the extreme risks involved in communicating with strangers online. Even something as seemingly harmless as accepting a friend request from a stranger could grant a pedophile or another criminal access to information such as a child’s location, whereabouts and the name of his or her school. Parents should maintain careful control over which apps children download and use, as well as use parental controls to increase safety. Supervised social media time can help prevent interactions with strangers and dangerous criminals.
Inappropriate Content on Kid’s Channels
Not all social media sites – even those geared toward children – are safe for child users. YouTube Kids, for example, could contain videos that are grossly inappropriate for child viewers. Anyone can post videos to YouTube Kids. The app allegedly filters out inappropriate content, but some videos fall through the cracks. A child using YouTube Kids unsupervised may end up viewing videos that contain nudity, sexual situations, foul language or violence. The same is true for other social media sites.
The internet can be a dangerous and dark place for children. From accidentally stumbling across inappropriate content to becoming the victim of an internet sex crime, children face many different risks online. Supervising a child’s use of social media sites and apps can reduce the risk of harm befalling them in the form of cyberbullying, sexual harassment, unsolicited pornographic images, pedophilia, and other dangerous or inappropriate interactions.