Children and young people spend a considerable amount of time on social media platforms and from quite an early age. Ofcom research published in 2022 found that 24% of three- and four-year-olds have their own social media profiles, and this rises to 60% of the eight- to eleven-year-olds. Most of the social media platforms that Ofcom found these children were using state that a user needs to be 13 years old to use the platform.
Another piece of research from Ofcom found that some parents facilitate the access to these platforms with 30% of eight- to twelve-year-olds stating that they set up their profile on TikTok with some help from their parents/guardians and 12% saying that their parent/guardian set it up for them.
Once using these platforms which are essentially designed for adults, they can be exposed to challenging content. 32% of eight- to eleven-year-olds and 37% of twelve- to fifteen-year-olds told Ofcom that they had seen “something worrying or nasty online”. This was self-reported so it is conceivable that there will be other things that parents would find concerning but were not seen as problematic by children and young people, and so not included in the figures. It is also important to consider whether the 32 or 37% got the help and support that they might have needed, or if they are still struggling with what they saw.
Social media platforms and those who use them can exert some considerable influence over others. Many of us will be familiar with ‘Prime’ energy drink – created by two well-known influencers, Logan Paul and KSI, it has quickly become hugely popular around the world. It costs around £2 from Asda and Aldi but it is difficult to get hold of and stocks run out within a couple of minutes of them opening. Some have seized on the difficulty that others have in finding bottles of the energy drink by selling them at inflated prices with some children persuading parents to travel over 100 miles to buy a bottle at ridiculously inflated prices. Such is the power of influence!
On a more serious note, influencers like Andrew Tate have been causing concern in schools for several months now with parents and teachers concerned about the toxic and misogynistic rhetoric that he shares. He particularly appeals to boys and young men with posts about health and fitness and ways to make money alongside his more toxic content.
A Guardian article back in August 2022 noted that “Andrew Tate says women belong in the home, can’t drive, and are a man’s property”. He also thinks rape victims must “bear responsibility” for their attacks and dates women aged 18–19 because he can “make an imprint” on them, according to videos posted online.”
Some pupils will try to defend the influencer as someone who is successful and rich who speaks the truth and says things that others are thinking but not prepared to speak out about. It is important for parents and teachers to have meaningful conversations with young people about influencers like Andrew Tate. They need opportunities to carefully consider some of the things that he is saying, what they mean, and whether they would like to be associated with his views. Influencers make their money as a direct result of the time and attention that we give them online. Our follows, likes and re-sharing of their content contribute to their success. Schools are doing a lot of great work in tackling some of these issues, but it needs to be backed up by others too. Challenging toxic content is important – following people who have different opinions to our own can be healthy, and not being afraid to tell a social media platform that you are “not interested” in a particular type of content all helps.
And then of course there is a lot of content relating to suicide, self-harm, depression, eating disorders, and more. Parents need to keep an open channel of communication with their children so that if they do come across content that they are struggling to deal with they will feel able to discuss it. If children think that disclosing a concern or experience will result in them being banned from a site or having their device confiscated, then they will not tell anyone – we need to be supportive, not punitive. There is a lot of challenging content online and our children need to be given the help and support that they need to manage their response to it.
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