Fight or flight? 4 tips to get involved with your child’s social media

It’s easy for today’s parents to feel overwhelmed or intimidated trying to stay up to date with all the apps, games and social media services their kids are using while also trying to keep them safe online.

eSafety’s 2018 survey of over 3500 Australian parents found that while the vast majority of parents felt online safety was a critical challenge, less than half felt confident to deal with cyberbullying or online threats to their children. Nearly all of the parents surveyed said they needed more information about online safety, but again less than half knew where to find it or where to go to get help.

And these pressures were even more pronounced during the recent COVID-19 lockdown. A landmark eSafety report on internet use by Australians during the pandemic found parents were twice as likely to feel overloaded with information and three times more stressed than people without children in the house.

To add to the frustration experienced by parents, it can often be the case that just when we think we have a handle on our child’s favourite platform, changes in age, friends, or after-school activities may mean they suddenly gravitate to new ones.

While this might make social media seem trivial and unworthy of our attention, it’s worth remembering that this stuff is deeply important them, so it should be important to you too.

Social media services are just tools for communicating with other people. As an adult, you have many more years of experience at this than your children. That adult knowledge of human nature and social interaction is valuable to your child whether they know it yet or not.

Knowing how to use the app yourself isn’t necessarily the aim — the kids can do the driving, so take a back seat and help them navigate – and avoid the inevitable potholes.

Here are some tips to get involved with your child’s online world:

1) Ask your kids to list the social media apps they use.

The average number of social media platforms used is three for young children and five for teens. You don’t need to know about every service available — just an understanding of the handful your child actually use.

Start with an overview. The eSafety Guide lists the most used services, their basic functions and how to stay safe while using them.

2) Ask your children how they are communicating with others on the platform?

Words: reading and writing publicly visible posts and comments; exchanging private messages; voice chat (talking to others using audio only).

Photos / Video: sharing photos; recorded videos; live stream of video (simultaneously recorded and broadcast in real time); live video chat (audio and video communication). 

Location: sharing the user’s location with other people by automatic tracking or the user periodically ‘checking in’.

Ask your children who they can communicate with?  

For each communication function available, ask your child: can you contact, or be contacted by, someone you don’t know?

How do you feel about that? If you’re not sure of the risks, The eSafety Guide can help you.

3) Restrict to start using; report to stop abusing.

If you don’t feel comfortable about allowing certain types of communication with friends or strangers, there’s probably a setting to restrict it.

Most platforms have a ‘parents’ guide’ or a ‘trust and safety centre’ to show you how. Also observe any age restrictions (especially for under 13s).

Learn how to block and report abuse through The eSafety Guide before you need to do it to prevent panic when your child comes to you in distress over a nasty comment or unwanted contact.

4) Talk about it: regularly ask your kids about their experiences using social media services. By letting them know they can come to you if things go wrong online, they are less likely to keep bad experiences hidden from you.

While you might think the most effective solution to keeping your child safe is to take away their devices, there is a manageable middle ground, but getting there takes time and begins with small steps.  

Remember, the online world is a totally immersive social space for young people today, so set usage limitations and stick to these guidelines, but do consider the impacts of more punitive measures and what this might mean for future, open conversations with your kids about what is happening online.