From the age of 13, children are legally allowed to have their own Instagram and Facebook accounts although researchers have found that many kids are using social media long before secondary school (this study is from Asia, but we know it’s happening globally).
Worryingly, social media has been flagged as one of the issues linked with the doubling in teen suicide rates in recent years, while a Pew Research study claims nearly 60% of US teens have been bullied online. With girls, there’s a lot to worry about on social media, like too-perfect beauty snaps that contribute to unrealistic expectations about looks and overly sexy snaps from celebs and regular people, that can make girls feel they should be exposing more of themselves online.
Of course, there is another, brighter side to social media: it can inspire grassroots activism (check out Marley Dias’ viral books campaign), make teens feel more connected and less lonely and help your teen with everything from socialising to finding role models and mentors to getting inspired for their own careers and futures.
We all know that our girls need to stay safe on social media, but how can they be smart about how they use it, too? Here’s what you need to know.
Parenting is hard: you want to be part of everything your children do, but you also know that being a helicopter isn’t good for them – or your sanity. However, when it comes to social media, you do want to know what your daughter is up to: as the NSPCC says, there is “overwhelming evidence that keeping children safe cannot be left to social networks.” Basic rules, like showing your kids how to turn off their location settings and turn on their privacy settings, report and block people and putting some time limits on their activity is a start (an internet filtering service will help). Not-so-basic rules – like knowing that a hashtag search on Instagram can inadvertently expose them to quite a lot of inappropriate content – should also be discussed. Talk to them about all of the various potential hazards on social media, from advertising they might not be aware is advertising, to “followers” who aren’t actually fellow 14-year-old girls. And remember, phone monitoring software exists for a reason…
READ MORE: 4 tips on how to raise confident girls
Make sure they know the rules
According to Pew, 45% of teens are online “almost constantly,” with 52% of them avid Instagram users and 41% obsessed by Snapchat. Teens use social media primarily to communicate with friend, which is what it should be used for (alarm bells should go off if your daughter announces her plans to use social media to “get famous”).
It’s crucial that your girls adhere to the two rules to live by on social media. 1) Never post anything mean, and 2) never post anything you might regret, whether that’s sexy, inappropriate or private. Let them know that a grandparent or future employer can always track someone’s social media history, and this can have damaging long-term implications (this Harvard anecdote about rescinded offers after offensive Facebook memes were posted can help hammer this point in). Also: you can never reiterate too many times how once something is online, someone can get a hold of it, even if you think you’ve erased it. It’s up there forever, whether it’s a naked photo or a nasty comment. Common Sense Media is a useful site for parents, with articles and expert tips on how to handle all sorts of social media issues and queries.
Show them the positive side of social media
There are thousands of inspiring things to see on social media, from glorious travel pictures that can teach your kid about places they’ve only dreamed about to amazing poetry (we love you, Rupi Kaur!), Social media is full of cool-girl activists campaigning to raise awareness about body-positivity or how to lead a more sustainable life, as well as inspiring celebs that can be great role models for your daughter (Emma Watson’s Instagram is fab). Take the time to help your daughter find some of these rays of sunshine online. Think of how much you enjoy starting off your day with positive messages, beautiful snaps and empowerment quotes – and how much good it can do for them, too.