A: One of the challenges of managing social media usage amongst young children in our highly tech-focused world is that parenting and teaching are not ‘one size fits all’ skill sets.
All of our young people are unique and different, and so require differing levels of support, scaffolding, freedoms and permissions when using social media, or any other technology tool, for that matter.
Therefore we need to modify our approaches depending upon the particular needs and attributes of each child, as best we are able, rather than simply setting rules about what should or should not be used by children of a particular age.
Of course, this can be easier said than done, particularly in a school community.
School communities are comprised of families, individuals, teachers, children and other stakeholders who have many different values and beliefs about social media use and children.
And while none of these groups of people necessarily have the monopoly on getting decisions ‘right’, these differing points of view need to be carefully considered and appreciated, given the widespread use of social media amongst children and the impact that getting decisions wrong can have.
We know that 45 per cent of eight to 11-yearolds use social networking sites and their ways of using them are quite similar to those of older children.
In the eight to 11-yearold age group, the top four sites being used were YouTube, Moshi Monsters, Club Penguin and Facebook.
The most popular things to do whilst using social media is playing games, private messaging, posting comments and posting status updates on their own profile.
We also know that access to social media is becoming increasingly something which happens in a variety of locations, as opposed to at home or school and under direct supervision.
Research tells us that 37 per cent of eight to nine-year-olds and 51 per cent of 10 to 11-year-olds have accessed the internet by using a handheld mobile device, and that 11 per cent of eight to nine year-olds already have their ‘own’ mobile phone.
This ‘ownership’ increases to 67 per cent amongst the 12 to 13-year-old age group.
One of the more useful responses to this issue is to adopt a strongly community focused model, where parents, caregivers, students, teachers and school leaders are seen as equal stakeholders charged with managing the constant evolution of social media and broader technology use for young people in the community.
Parents and caregivers are certainly not all going to agree on which apps or platforms are appropriate or useful for children of a particular age, and seeking this type of consensus is not the fundamental purpose of a community focused model.
Rather, inviting and encouraging collaboration and involvement in planning policies and approaches ensures that everyone feels their voice is heard and valued.
A community-wide approach opens the discussion and helps various groups within the school understand the perspective of others; knowing and accepting that some families have very different values and ideas compared with others.
From this understanding can come the development of digital policies and responses that are relevant and appropriate for the school community; policies which are more likely to have success and acceptance because they have been generated by the community members for their own local needs and situations.
Locally appropriate social media approaches need to be revisited regularly to ensure they maintain currency and so that they can adapt to changing needs and new technologies, rather than becoming simply another consent form which is signed as an expectation by families and students and then never seen again.