As the State exams in English highlighted teens use of social media and asked are this generation self-obsessed, we look at ways to make sure that your child stays safe when they spend time on social media.  A virtually erasable digital footprint, spending increasing amounts of time online and dealing with a whole new form of peer pressure that relates to social media, is undoubtedly having a significant impact on childhood. When we visit schools throughout the country to talk to primary and second level students about staying safe online, we regularly hear about the pressure children of all ages feel to be online and to share information with their peers and friends digitally.

Peer pressure has been around for generations, however now in a digital age it is even more pervasive and can be very difficult for a child and indeed parents to navigate. Here are a few things to remember when dealing with peer pressure around social media.

Most social network sites comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Rather than collecting verifiable consent from parents for kids under 13, they simply restrict usage to those over 13 to avoid the issue. During the course of many of our workshops in schools, the majority of kids have admitted to lying about their age to get around this when joining a platform.

Respect on social media is a fundamental matter. There is often a disconnection for children between real life and their digital world, which can cause them to do things online that they would never do in real life. Explain to your child that they should act on social media as they do in real life; with respect and dignity. It’s vital to speak to your child before they join any social media sites and talk about the potential risks. Educate them about responsible usage, what to do if they encounter any issues and discuss what platform might suit them best.

We would always recommend that they start their social media journey with a child‐friendly app, which has appropriate safety settings and features. Familiarise yourself with the platform that your child is joining and know its’ features and capabilities. Then sit down with your child to set up their profile, ensure that it is set to private so they are not visible to strangers, and that their profile does not contain any overly personal information or images which could leave them vulnerable.

Sit down regularly with your child for them to show you around their profiles. This empowers them to work with you towards a safer social media experience, as opposed to against you. Try not to have a set time and day that you do it, as you run the risk of your child removing content, settings or friends that they don’t want you to see, if they know that you always check at a specific time. Keep track of your child’s password. You should be able to check it whenever you feel the need to, and a condition of them being on any social networks should be that they inform you of any password changes. Have a cut‐off time for social media and general phone use in the evening.
In many respects peer pressure is a part of growing up. Remaining safe online and being sensible about their use of social media will help to empower your child as they negotiate the digital world.