The influence of social media for your family and children

Social media has significantly influenced society and our daily lives – in good ways and bad. On the bright side, it makes it easy to stay in touch with family and friends, but it can also become a means of constant distraction and at times even isolation from other people.

As parents, it can feel challenging to navigate a world that is so different from the one you grew up in, particularly when technology is evolving at such a rapid pace. That’s why it’s important to be proactive in talking to your children about the ways they use social media.

Impacts of social media: How to protect your family and children

Our Real Digital Risk research has found that almost all parents are concerned that their children may be exposed to harmful things through technology. As parents, we want to trust our children to be responsible online – but we also know that kids can be easy targets. This puts them at risk of things like cyberbullying, predators, and exposure to sexually inappropriate content.

Social media has amplified all of these risks, so it’s little surprise that many parents are accessing their children’s social media accounts to monitor their activities. Over a third have reported that their children have been exposed to inappropriate content, and a quarter said their child has experienced abusive behaviour online.

While parents are willing to go to great lengths to protect their family and their children – with half even creating fake social media profiles – it can be tricky to know the best way to ensure their online safety.

What’s more, social media can create negative or reduced interactions between family members, where people are distracted by their phones instead of spending quality time in person. Which is why, it’s a good idea to come together as a family to set boundaries around phone usage and discuss the impacts of social media.

Examining the effects of social media on kids under 10, tweens (11-12) and teens

Our Real Education Report showed that around half of parents were worried about their children’s increased screen time during the pandemic – and the effects it might have on their confidence, social skills, and mental health.

Teens now spend an average of 14.4 hours a week online, with males spending more time online than females, according to Australia’s eSafety commissioner. Boys spent 15 hours online a week, compared to girls who spend 13.8 hours per week. As well as this, teens are having negative experiences online, with just over four in 10 teens reporting issues such as bullying, being excluded from social groups, or being contacted by people that are not known to them.

In Australia, one in five kids already have a social media account by the age of 11 – and this number rises to three in four by the time they are aged 15 to 17.

Of course, not all social media use is bad: it can be a powerful tool for connection with their peers, enabling them to get the emotional support they need during tough times. There are also social media influencers who serve as positive role models for kids, promoting healthy habits and positive attitudes.

Studies have demonstrated the negative impact social media can have on mental health of kids of all ages. Headspace found that younger Australians feel that social media puts more pressure on them, causes mental health issues and can even cause sleep issues and concerns about body image.

Parenting in the digital age: Reliable tips you can use

Australia’s foremost cybersecurity expert, Susan McLean, regularly provides advice to parents about how to keep their kids safe in the digital age. These are her top tips:

  • Actively participate in your child’s life both on and offline.
  • Be present with them in the digital space.
  • Learn about the different social media platforms and their functionalities, so you understand how your child may be affected.
  • Monitor what social media platforms your child has access to.
  • Have open and honest conversations early and often, which is the best preventative measure.
  • Set clear rules and boundaries – and stick to them.
  • Show an interest in their interests and activities online.
  • Educate yourself around the potential risks – don’t ever think it can’t happen to your child.
  • Help your children understand the risks.
  • Explain that your involvement in their social media is about ensuring their safety – not invading their privacy.
  • Let them know there is nothing so bad they can’t tell you about it and ask for help.
  • If you suspect your child is being bullied or groomed online, contact the police or an authority.

How to build healthy digital habits for your family

To protect your family’s private information and avoid online scams, Susan recommends locking all accounts with a separate password that is strong and secure. Additionally, avoid logging into any apps via social media accounts – always use an email and password.

You can review and update your family’s privacy settings on social media platforms so that only approved people can see posts or send messages. You should also remind your children not to accept friend requests from people they don’t know, or share sensitive information on social media platforms.

When it comes to screen time, the best practice is to have a discussion as a family – and collectively set limits for devices that your kids agree to. It’s worth spending time researching apps that are educational and positive for children, and choosing which videos and channels they have access to on platforms like YouTube. Another tip is to search your app store for “parent control tools” that you can download on your child’s device. Many charge a small subscription fee, yet there are some free alternatives available. These can assist you with limiting what and where your child is accessing data and information.

To tech, or not to tech?

Finally, remember that technology can be a guide to amazing offline experiences that you can share as a family. So next time your kids are online, why not encourage them to look up recipes that you can make together, your next destination for a holiday or a hike, or an interesting craft project? Then switch off your devices while you enjoy an activity together.

Consider taking an additional step to protect your family with Real Life Insurance, they could help you plan for every stage of life.