We all have seen first hand the increasing usage of internet on mobile devices, particularly social media, by children and their seeming addiction to them. Two sets of reports coming in from the UK early this year give a lot of food for thought regarding what ought to be parents’ active role in managing their children’s social media usage and to help them in extracting positive outcomes from ther kids’ time spent online.
The first report is that of the UK Children’s commissioner titled Life in ‘likes’ that looks into social media usage of children between ages 8-12. The second report titled Drawing the future is a collaborative survey by a UK based charity Education & Employers along with OECD Education & Skills, Times Education Supplement et al and looks at the career aspirations of 7-11 year olds and how exposure to social media in addition to other factors influences their future career aspirations. This international survey of almost 20,000 kids (with a large majority from the UK) shows that Social media & Gaming has become the number 4 career of choice after the top 3 career aspirations of being a sportsperson, teacher and veterinarian doctor.
If one looks at these reports in conjunction with a mid 2017 research by travel giant First Choice of 6-17 year olds that said 3/4th of kids were aspiring for a career in the online video industry (YouTube/vlogging), the answer to the frequently asked question of kids about what they want to become when they grow up becomes clear. Also, these reports throws up important areas for parents to pay attention to in order to help their kids achieve their dreams and aspirations.
The Life in ‘likes’ report that surveyed the social media usage of kids highlights the need for parents to not only pay attention to the safety aspects of social media usage but also the subtler and often deep impact that social media can have on their psyche. One of those impacts is confirmed by the First Choice and Drawing the Future surveys we have referenced in this article that talks about how social media influences the aspirational career choices of young kids. The Life in ‘likes’ report seeks to make parents aware about how children’s social media use changes with age as well as with key events such as entry to secondary school. The report also gives guidance to parents as to how best to direct children to use social media in a positive manner, as well as how and when to disengage from it.
While social media can be all fun and games and family for primary age kids, this frequently becomes a source of pressure later on when they enter secondary school. Here, they are constantly exposed to their peers’ social media accounts and are under pressure to attain higher number of likes on their pictures and posts shared on Facebook & Instagram. There is also the added pressure to maintain an appearance of cool (for boys) and pretty (for girls). Additionally their perspectives on the wider life is driven by whether or not an event is ‘shareable’ or not.
Anne Longfield, the Children’s commissioner for UK in an interview to the BBC said: “It’s really when they hit secondary school that all of these things come together. They find themselves chasing likes, chasing validation, being very anxious about their appearance online and offline and feeling that they can’t disconnect — because that will be seen as socially damaging.”
The report recommends that the schools and parents alike should, as part of Digital Literacy, develop children’s critical awareness of the social media imagery they are exposed to by peers, friends, brands, celebrites etc in order that they are able to separate appearance (usually digitally altered content) from reality.
Also, children should be made aware as to how social media platforms use techniques and algorithms to highlight what children see there and how they are designed to encourage the kids to be constantly engaged and thus dominate their lives at the expense of their lives offline in the real world.
Parents need to also encourage and support their children to take part in other activities as research has shows that kids who take active interest in sports, hobbies & other activities are spared from the crutches of social media to engage themselves and keep themselves occupied. Additionally in order to better align childrens’ social media usage and their increasing aspirations of a career in Social media & Gaming, parents should encourage learning opportunities and creative pursuits when the kids spent their time online instead of simply passively consuming content.