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Social Media: “Why are we not talking about safety for kids”?

February 10, 2011

A neglected issue

One of the true, neglected, issues surrounding Social Media is safety. Safety of how to use your Facebook account, or what the consequences are of posting a drunken photo on Flickr or Tumblr. Safety when you’re talking to world about your short ‘party-holiday’ to Ibiza on twitter. Or by showing that you are nice guy who is really into Nazi memorabilia. You may think this will not make any kind of difference when you are applying for a job or when you are looking for a new girlfriend, but it probably will.

Drunken chatter and party shots

If you think that posting your party photo’s and your ‘drunk-talk’ on the World Wide Web would go through an ‘i-am-stupid’ filter, than you are sadly mistaken. These days you’ll find plenty of lawsuits and disputes that started by rash or reckless Social Media posts. Sadly, mothers and fathers are losing custody over their children, get fired from work, or they even get convicted for sexual harassment when they are really stupid or Plain-Old-Pigs.


Most of the attention in these kind of cases goes to the privacy settings of the Social Network Platform they use, but I think that’s wrong. Most of the attention should go to prevention of uttering these unthinking, unwanted thoughts. I think it has more to do with the privacy settings in our heads than the settings on the platforms. Of course our favorite Social Media channels should in some way offer protection if we would want that and actually most of them do. But one of the appealing traits, of platforms like Facebook and Twitter, is that most people like to see other people’s mistakes, even if they are horrified by the fact this could happen to them.

Kids: A completely different ballgame

Keeping ourselves from making mistakes on the internet, the place that never forgets, is one thing, but keeping kids from making mistakes is a completely different ballgame altogether. If we would be talking about kids while referring to stupid mistakes, it would be more understandable, because the boundaries of cause and effect are a little vague when you are 11 compared to when you are 28. Keeping children safe in this day and age is terribly difficult. Not so long ago a Dutch girl of  13 was beat-up because a close girlfriend posted a picture of her online, that was deemed to be too sexy by some students of her own school. In a fight between two student groups that revolved around the photo she bruised one of her vertebra. In an interview, the head of the school, Rick d’Ancona pointed out, that children are not aware of the dangers of sites like Twitter, Facebook or the Dutch social platform Hyves ( a link to the report in Dutch can be found here). I believe this is true, and this is not only true for children in the Netherlands, this is true for children around the world.

Why?

Before we will address how we can fix this, I would like to suggest a reason why children do not seem to grasp the amount of danger they are in when they are using Social Media. I will not use this blog post to paint a horror picture, but I hope this post will wake-up some people who are in charge of safety for children. Firstly we can assume that most of the children between 8 and 16 are fully aware of the internet and the possibilities to share their stories with the world around them. They grew up with the internet being all around them. From using it to play their favorite games to seeing the integration of the Smart-board in their classroom.  And while the children didn’t know any better than working with the constant presence of the Internet around them their parents where adjusting. Actually they are so busy adjusting that they do not notice that using Social Media to voice their opinions, showing their holiday photo’s and sharing their intimate secrets comes natural to the Children they are busy raising.

Let’s educate the children

I have heard a lot of parents complaining that they will never catch up with the children, and this may be true, but they are still adults. We may have created the internet as one happy, open, free playground. But it is an adult playground. And while Social Media are quickly becoming the new School Playground, they are created without borders, rules or regular checking teachers. And even though the dams have already burst,  we can make our children aware of the dangers when they are hitting the water. We should educate our children about the dangers that are very real. I have thought about some simple lecture material to make it easier for the educators and parents to become aware of what is happening on Social Media and more importantly how to make children aware of the dangers and the possibilities.

But why would we also point out the possibilities if there are so many dangers around? Anyone? Exactly, children will not listen to you if you only put all you effort in notifying children of the dangers. You want to educate them so they themselves can make educated guesses and decisions of what to do and especially what not to do. And maybe, just maybe the adults will learn a bit about drunken chatter and stupid photo’s too.

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