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Left to their own devices: how to parent in the age of social media

Parenting expert Sarah Hoffman offers advice on navigating the online world and keeping children safe from things like sexting and digital bullying

10 July 2022 - 00:00
Boundaries, parental controls and being a safe landing space - what parents need to know for parenting in an online world.
Boundaries, parental controls and being a safe landing space - what parents need to know for parenting in an online world. 
Image: 123RF/rawpixel

Using social media responsibly is a critical 21st century life skill. Realising that parents have no guidance to teach their children these skills, social media lawyer Sarah Hoffman and clinical psychologist Pam Tudin founded Klikd at the start of lockdown in 2020 as a platform which provides resources for parents, educators, teens and tweens to ensure that social media is used happily, but safely and responsibly.

As part of this, they launched their Klikd app a year ago as a platform to upskill tweens to be successful online and they've recently launched a First Device Mini Workshop aimed at parents whose children are starting out in the online world.

We spoke to Hoffman to find out more about the resources they offer and what some of her tips are for keeping children safe online.

Why is it important for parents to adopt a “how to” instead of “beware of” approach when it comes to parenting and social media?

When it comes to driving behaviour change in teens and tweens fearmongering and disapproval for their choices doesn’t resonate. They’ve already heard there are bullies online and that sexting is against the law. What they need is a reframe — to hear this information in a different way [of] understanding this is the world.

Social media can be a scary place for children and teens. What are the biggest threats that parents of younger children should be aware of?

For younger kids — 10 and below, the biggest concern is screen addiction. Devices are designed to keep us coming back so we have to be intentional about how, when and where our children use them.

Another concern is stumbling across inappropriate content. We have to be careful that our children, for as long as possible, experience a curated version of content. Something like YouTube, which is user generated, has many opportunities for kids to stumble across inappropriate content because of the way the algorithms work. As much as we try and restrict what our children watch, it’s possible that inappropriate or explicit content may appear in their feeds.

Sexting is the second pandemic: it was rife before Covid and has been amplified post-Covid

And parents of older children?

We see more severe cases of cyberbullying and pornography. Following Covid, the number of teens dealing with real pornography addictions has skyrocketed. Sexting is the second pandemic: it was rife before Covid and has been amplified post-Covid after two years of our children literally and figuratively being left to their own devices.

We also worry about our children’s digital footprint. The internet is forever so everything we post, like or share forms part of our online brand. In a moment [of] not thinking about what their future boss or their scholarship board will think, [children may] post because it feels good. There are also concerns about online comparison and its toll on mental health.

Do you have tips for parents to ensure the safety of children as they engage in social media?

Boundaries and rules must be put in place. We have a useful social media contract to download from our website which put the boundaries in place and can be customised to a family’s needs as to how, when and where the device is used. Even if your child is already on social media, it’s not too late to do things differently.

As overstretched as parents are, [they] should keep in touch with what’s going on with their children’s online world but we know it's overwhelming.[You can] follow Klikd on social media — we make it our job to stay on top of the latest trends, risks and threats. We provide updates via the app.

Parental controls are important. Look at our website for resources on which the best controls are to filter inappropriate content, limit screen time, restrict the type of content your children are accessing and the time spent accessing it.

Advice for parents when it comes to ensuring the safety of their children is to stay connected. Have regular check ins and conversations about your child and their online world, don’t be judgmental and, most importantly, let your child know that you're their safe landing space.

• For more information or to access resources, visit the Klikd website