Parents should improve ‘digital literacy’ to support children’s social media use

Shots from Plugged In: The true toxicity of social media revealed mental health documentary, made by

Shots from Plugged In: The true toxicity of social media revealed mental health documentary, made by Norfolk filmmaker Richard Willett and presented by psychologist Richard Grannon. Picture: Richard Willett/Brick in the Wall Media - Credit: Brick in the Wall Media

Nearly one in six children have found content online which has made them uncomfortable, new research shows.

The study by the University of Sheffield also said almost a quarter (23pc) of parents have reported their child accessing online content that made them feel uncomfortable.

But despite safety concerns the report said social media can provide 'extremely useful tools' for learning and socialising.

The study found children of all ages were avid social media users despite site age restrictions. Among eight to 16-year-olds YouTube was the most popular, used by 87pc of children, followed by messaging app WhatsApp (57pc). Around half use Facebook and Instagram (51pc and 49pc respectively), whose age policies require users to be at least 13.

Prof Jackie Marsh, from the University of Sheffield's school of education, said there was a need for targeted support to develop parents' 'digital literacy'.

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'Children are immersed in technology and social media from a very young age and its common for people to assume this is a bad thing, but when carefully managed with the right tools and techniques, they can be extremely useful tools to teach important life and social skills,' she said.

Norfolk filmmaker Richard Willett has explored the potentially harmful effects of social media on teenagers' mental health – but he does not advocate disconnecting from it, only a more informed approach to it.

Many schools in Norfolk are proactively educating their pupils about the safe use of social media, in part to tackle cyber bullying, with teachers working to keep abreast of the latest apps their students are using.

The importance of parents also being aware of their children's online activities was brought to the fore with the Momo challenge last month – which was eventually revealed as a hoax.

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Steven Thompson is founder of Norwich company Big Daddy PR, which helps adults and young people to improve their 'personal brand' on social media. He feels not enough attention is paid to its potential benefits.

'In our sessions in schools we get young people to understand the power of social media in a positive way but also to understand that what they put out there can have a negative effect on their life,' he said.

'I know social media can be a negative place but it is very much about the way that people use it and what their intentions are. We teach young people to use it in a more responsible way.'

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