The internet has changed our relationships and technology is moving forward at a phenomenal rate and most of us are running behind trying to keep up. We are having a love affair with social media and most of our friends live on their smart phones. And it’s not all bad. Facebook has enabled me to stay connected with friends from school and without it we would have lost touch.
We diarise our lives and people do love to watch what others are doing. Social media can affect self-esteem by creating unrealistic images of perfect lives, but it does also offer the feel-good factor when you get lots of likes or comments. It’s a way to feel part of a community and feel loved and young people see it: it connects them to the world, with friends far and near. If you have ever taken your child’s phone away from them as a punishment you will probably have found that they feel anxious and disconnected. It is an integral part of their lives and they worry they will lose friends and miss out on things without it.
So much of young people’s lives are lived online that their concept of friendship has changed. Many young people will have met new people online through gaming. They may never meet them face to face, but they may have had many conversations over many months or years. Although we teach young children only to play with real life friends, as they grow older it is inevitable that they will engage with others, possibly from all over the world. Done sensibly and with an awareness of the risks, this can be a positive thing.
We need to focus on the positives and create conversations and awareness rather than focusing on the negatives. Being online does create amazing opportunities and, as adults, we also feel more connected. Let’s focus on teaching young people not to reveal too much personal information and encourage them never to use their real name as usernames. Children and young people will engage with new people online, so we need to educate them on privacy and recognising the warning signs that something might not be quite right. Encouraging children to open up, talk and not feel like they are doing something wrong will protect them more in the long run than a long list of don’ts.
Boundaries have been set for children and young people for hundreds of years. This has not changed; we just need to realign these boundaries for our digital life. We need to set new parameters around personal information, selfies, posting and good citizenship.