According to youth mental health organization Inspire, there has been a prevailing attitude amongst young people that teachers, parents and youth workers don’t undestand technology and how young people use the internet.

Young people therefore feel that adults weren’t in a position to credibly advocate safe internet practice.

The internet is clearly a vital and important tool in the every day lives of young people:
• Research has shown that Year 5 is the most common entry point into social media
• 90% of 12-27 year olds use social networking services
• 97% of 16-17 year old use social networking services
• Social networking is the number one online activity for 16-29 year olds

Key concerns adults hold about social networking include cyberbullying, cyberstalking, sexting and inappropriate content.

But at the same time, there is a lot of research that social media is a core part of how young people grow up and develop. Social media has been found to be key in education, development of media literacy, identity and self-expression, creativity, connectedness and relationships, and ultimately wellbeing.

But how can parents, youth workers or youth organisations minimise the risks that they are concerned about, while maximising the significant benefit that social media can provide to their children?

Of course, there is no simple and straightforward answer. But here are three suggestions:

  1. No amount of monitoring, surveillance or computers in a particular location will replace having a supportive relationship that encourages the young person that they can seek help from you without concern of social media ‘bans’.
  2. Swap roles. Find out how much they know by becoming the student. “I’m not very clued into Facebook, can you help me set up a profile? How do I change my privacy settings? What privacy settings should I have?” If they don’t know, then you can both find out together.
  3. Don’t freak out. Social media can be scary, but things can and do go wrong. From a parent’s perspective, this doesn’t mean that the sky is falling down. Treat it as you would ‘in real life’. For an organisation, this is the key reason you need to have effective and well-written social media guidelines and policies.
But remember that no matter what, social media is an intensely important part of young people’s lives. It’s not just a ‘tool’, it’s a core component.