Should children be educated on social media?

Who is responsible for your childs social media safety?

There have been a number of high profile and distressing stories in the news of teenagers being subjected to cyberbullying and blackmail. And for every tragic case that hits the headlines, there are thousands of other situations where children and teenagers are subjected to bullying and harassment online.

According to the NSPCC, 50% of young people in the UK have been on the receiving end of cyber bullying. They most commonly receive abusive emails and text messages but very recent cases have highlighted the dangers lurking within the many social networking sites available. While Ask.fm was in the news recently as a result of the suicide of 14 year-old Hannah Smith, research undertaken by Know The Net reveals that cyber bullying is a particularly bad problem on Facebook and is happening every day.

As teenagers spend more of their lives online, is it time for them to be educated on the dangers of the internet and how to keep themselves as safe as they can?

Relationship building

Of course, the issue of bullying isn’t exactly a new one. Many of today’s parents experienced problems at school and were bullied at some point. However, the awful thing about cyber bullying is its range. Embarrassing photos or videos can be shared with thousands of people within a matter of hours, making the target feel betrayed and humiliated. And because cyber threats can be made at arms length or even anonymously, bullies are more likely to display this type of destructive behaviour than they would face-to-face.

As social networking is still a relatively new phenomenon, parents and teachers haven’t been up to speed with the associated dangers. Publicity in the past has been more focused on the availability of pornography and paedophiles luring young people into online relationships. However, the recent coverage of cyber bullying has made some public bodies and MPs question how we can better protect young people online.

Who is responsible?

The question is: should social media be part of the school curriculum or should parents be responsible for educating their children on using the internet?

According to a 2009 report entitled ‘Virtual Violence: Protecting Children from Cyberbullying’ by the organisation Beat Bullying, it’s everyone’s responsibility – including the government, social media websites, parents, schools, the public sector and the voluntary sector. However, it emphasises the need to empower young people to be safe online, manage the risks and cope better with cyber bullying when it does occur. It recommends the following actions:

• Easy ways to report instances of cyber bullying, including higher profile links to organisations such as ChildLine and Beat Bullying
• More availability of offline and online support services such as counselling and peer-to-peer network groups
• Increased resources directed towards anti-bullying programmes, including education that will engage young people
• Providing more help to vulnerable groups, such as children with learning difficulties and those from deprived backgrounds
• Parents taking more responsibility for helping their children to be aware of and deal with cyber bullying and other potentially harmful behaviour online.

The challenge, then, is for these groups to communicate more with children and teenagers on the problems that they can encounter on the internet. It’s time for parents, teachers and family members to become social media literate so that they can talk meaningfully to young people about keeping themselves safe.  What is your opinion and are you happy that your children know how to use the internet safely?  If you could make a change what would it be?

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