Antisocial Media?

I’d like to think we’re good parents.  Our kids are encouraged to eat their greens, remember their manners, never talk to strangers and always use the Green Cross Code.  Oh, and no bike helmet means no bike. But do we, or can we, protect our children as well in the online world?  And it’s not just children. We are all at risk of losing touch with the real world if we’re living our lives through our devices.

Fail to ensure your device is sufficiently secured with passwords and parental controls and you could be opening yourself and your kids up to all sorts of inappropriate content and irresistible offers.  And it can be very expensive too. My 8 year old son was happily gaming recently on a Saturday morning when I had a phone call from my bank.  Would I authorise a number of transactions which had been flagged as suspicious?  Yes, my boy had been swept away by the constant in-game cajoling and had started merrily clicking away to buy more and more “diamonds” so that he could populate his fictional monster islands with more and more cute characters.  To the tune of £1644.49 as it turned out.  Thankfully, after a week or so of nervously checking accounts it was all refunded   Perhaps I should be congratulating him for so cleverly code cracking and password resetting to get what he wanted.  I could complain to the game developer involved for the way the content is pushed and what he managed to do despite my apps and my payment methods being password protected. Or maybe I just need to wise up to the risks that are out there. 

I was telling my friend this sorry tale.  Once she’d picked her jaw back off the ground when she heard the figure he’d spent, she told me her 6 year old son had also tried to get past the security on their iPad by simply saying “OK Siri, what’s your password?”.  Siri was having none of it though and politely replied “I don’t think this is information I should be giving you…”!  Kids have always been very good at getting what they want. Now that our children are born into a digital world with the allure and excitement of gadgets all around them, we really need to be on our toes. 

Teenagers who have grown up with social media live in a different world to the one I grew up in. Sure, there were certain pressures from magazines and TV of how to look.  But it really does seem totally overwhelming now to impressionable adolescents trying to find their way in the world. They are shaped and judged in an online world and we do worry about how well they might adjust in the “real” world. 

My teenaged stepdaughter rarely has more than a couple of centimetres between her nose and her iPhone.  And it must be the very latest iPhone, not that she could actually tell you what the difference in features are between one model and the next.  Immersed in a world of Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, selfies and, I hope not, but possibly online bullying.  The characteristics of “nomophobia”: the fear of being out of mobile phone contact, sum her up to a T.  She proudly showed me her new phone charger cable recently, with 3 metres worth of lead so that it can always be charged, “even when I’m laying in bed with the phone next to me on my pillow”.  

Facebook and Instagram can often feel like a competition to see how many friends you have or how many “likes” your latest selfie received. Snapchat have even tweaked this up a notch and their photo-sharing app encourages you to earn rewards.  Post the ultimate perfection in your selfie with filters applied, or be creative with your pics and a shiny new Emoji trophy is yours.  Even better, reach the giddy heights of having your story featured on Live Story and you’ve truly arrived – great work, you’ve earnt the world icon. There’s even a trophy (the egg in the frying pan…) for posting between 4am and 5am…so our long-fought battles with the phone staying out of the bedroom during sleeping hours are surely now lost as the race for most self-obsessed selfie-poster takes over.

The internet can be a deep, dark place with many sites not monitored.  What if you’re not the selfie king or queen and instead you end up on the receiving end of online bullying.  Impressionable children and teenagers can in a few moments be deeply and permanently affected by a message or a post that may have even been meant in jest, but with no context or personal interaction to validate comments. The anonymous perpetrator carries on with their online meanderings while somebody somewhere is left picking up the pieces.  And who’s to know who is really behind a profile picture.  

Will our children learn the art of socialising?  I mean real life socialising when you look at people and talk to them.  Not the kind of socialising where you sit next to your friends, all on your phones in a synchronized frenzy of tapping and selfie-taking, occasionally commenting or laughing at the screen at a joke you’re all sharing. 

And then there’s the “Fear of Missing Out”, “FOMO”, that affects many of us “grown ups” too. What if we don’t see that event invitation sent via Facebook, or don’t respond to the offer of a super freebie to the first ten respondents.  Or we don’t realise our best friend who lives round the corner’s new baby has been born. Because they put it on Facebook but we weren’t up to date with our newsfeed. 

I don’t think it matters to my children that when I was their age, not even my parents had mobile phones and people could go about their business, totally uncontactable for hours on end. If we needed to contact home urgently we’d use a phone box and reverse the charges. We spoke to our friends with our voices when we saw them, told them in person what we’d been up to and showed them using printed photographs what a lovely time we had on our trip to the seaside.  We’re living in a different world now, but do we need to lose the human touch?  

Everything in moderation they say. Of course there are huge benefits to this always-on technology and I value the benefit of knowing where your teen is with the iFriend app.  And thankfully my boys are still at an age where they’d jump (literally) at the chance to go to a park and climb up a tree rather than staring at a screen.  

So while I just triple check my security settings again before letting my kids on any of our devices, I remind myself that we need to keep our heads up in the real world. The breadth of resources we have access to now is astounding.  How did we ever live without Google? But it’s definitely a balance. Making choices to use the power of connectivity but taking our eyes away from the screen enough every day to know what’s real.