David Cameron admitted in a recent interview with Grazia that he would let his kids on Facebook, as long as he could monitor what they posted. The PM recognised that “now everyone shows their pictures on Facebook they need to think: well, what about that job interview?”.
Many parents may have similar yet unspoken fears over what their kids are getting up to online - whether their teenager will be the next to send a knee-jerk distasteful tweet that ends up going viral and costing them that hard-earned graduate internship or merely uploading their holiday snaps in bikinis without any privacy settings being engaged. There are also the more serious implications such as cyber-bullying, with extremely sad examples recently hitting the press. Most recently, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre released data showing that hundreds of children in the UK are being bullied into performing sex acts online – with the perpetrators then threatening the child’s family with the images in return for cash. The most serious cases from earlier in the summer reported kids self-harming and even taking their own life from the pressure of these blackmail attempts. Operation K uncovered 322 children around the world being blackmailed, including 96 in the UK. The majority of the 40-strong cyber-gang used fake social media profiles to lure in their victims.
What about the potential repercussions of having an online footprint that is there for eternity from the age of 10? Although most social networks ban users under 12 or 13, new ones are cropping up that are designed for kids under 13, including chat apps that encourage them to share pictures in groups. Children as young as 10 are handling smart phones which often have social media platforms built in by default – making it even harder to keep track of what they are doing and who they are speaking to.
Parents in the public eye may get a shock when their 14 year old’s Instagram photos of their family holiday end up in the paper, although this is increasingly common. Worse still, most kids signing up to social media for the first time will not think twice about filling out all their personal details, including home addresses and school names for all to see. The dating world is starting to catch up with their own platforms that integrate themselves into social media and set up conversations with strangers which can obviously turn sour fast.
The good news is there are as many tools to encourage online safety as there are social media platforms, from parental filters and security settings – although these will never catch everything your child does on their iPad in their bedroom. The key really is education on e-safety and privacy, both for the kids and more importantly their parents so that they know what to watch out for before it ends up compromising their futures. The Attorney General recently calling for guidance to be built into the curriculum is a step in the right direction – but is it too little too late?