Can We Help Children Manage Their Online Lives?

11/02/2016 10:28 GMT | Updated 09/02/2017 10:12 GMT

I am sure that many parents read the survey by CBBC Newsroundon children's use of social media. The survey was carried out to mark Safer Internet Day, which is a global event which encourages children to use the internet in a safe but fun way, and highlight the relevance of e-safety.

The survey found that amongst 13- to 18-year-olds, 96% were signed up to social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Whatsapp. This to me isn't surprising at all, although I do find the inclusion of FaceBook interesting, as in my experience, children tend not to use this platform as much as the other social media apps mentioned.

The real headline grabber was that amongst the under-13s, 78% were using at least one social media network, despite being below the age of 13, which is the minimum age requirement to use these social media platforms.

Maybe some parents reading that would be surprised, or even shocked. As a teacher I am not at all. In my school, despite a roll out of iPads to facilitate learning, the number one mobile device is still very much the smart phone. They are pervasive in the lives of our children, and this means that their online life runs parallel to their real world lives.

For many children, being part of the first generation with no real privacy does not appear to cause any problems. They are well adjusted, and confident about what is acceptable to post online. However for many, the boundaries between who they are talking too and the appropriateness of their images or comments for their audience have become blurred. Many schools have problems with dealing with this radical (yet I suspect) permanent shift in the way children conduct their friendships.

In the real world, mean comments would still happen, but paper notes are easily put in a bin, whereas bullying in the direct messages of Instagram can be screenshotted . Young people might think they can take down online content, but it is easy enough to search for deleted content that they would truly cringe if they though a teacher or parent could see. Yes, children make mistakes using social media, but I for one would much rather that they made these mistakes in a nurturing environment where they can be educated rather than just punished.

Taking away a child's mobile phone will only put the ever present e-safety issues under the surface of school life. I feel much more confident in equipping our young people in how to effectively use social media instead. How do you report inappropriate content? How do you block someone? What should you do if you are, or see someone else being bullied?

I could repeat this message in PSHE session year after year, but for it to really work, schools must develop effective partnerships with parents. Here are some thought for parents to consider:

Do you know what social media platforms you child is active on? Might they be using an alias to avoid a simple parental Google search?

Do you follow them so you can see what they are posting?

Are you comfortable using Snap Chat or Instagram? You child is much more likely to be online there than on old-people social media like FaceBook.

Do you role model how to use social media safely?

Can you ask for their phone to check the kind of content your child is accessing?

Have you told the phone company that the device is for a child, as this will affect the online content they can access?

Do you know how to filter you own home Wi-Fi in the same way you expect their school too?

Many schools are more than happy to help parents with these sorts of issues. We appreciate how hard it can be to get young people away from their screens, but I really believe that effective role modelling and nurturing mistakes is more productive than just banning phones. We need to teach and parent in the real world, whether that world may be online or not.