Safeguarding and Social Media

  • By Graeme Brown
  • Jan 21, 2018

The use of social media is becoming an increasingly important aspect of people’s lives in modern society. Originally intended to connect people with old friends and distinct family members, it is now used in a diverse range of ways. These include socializing with friends, finding out about information in the local area, playing online games, and letting people know about important life events. Social media is also used by businesses as an important element of their marketing strategy.

Although there are strict rules relating to young people using social media, this can be difficult to monitor, and more children than ever are accessing a range of social media sites. This has the potential to put people at risk in a number of ways. Therefore, it is essential that those who are working with children and young people are aware of these risks and have the relevant training to put measures in place and put the appropriate strategies in place to safeguard vulnerable young people.

The Reasons Children and Young People Use Social Media

 It is important that those working with children and young people understand why they use social media sites. Although these reasons vary from one individual to the next, the most common reason is to connect with their friends after school. While this has been commonplace amongst teens for many years, there has been a significant increase in children aged between eight and 12 accessing these sites over the last two years. This is concerning as the law states that social media sites are only for those aged 13 and over.

Other reasons why children of this age use social media sites include playing games and finding out information relating to their interests. While these may seem innocent enough ways for a child to spend their time, they do pose some risks and children often have more concerning reasons for using the Internet, such as conforming to peer pressure or as a way of pushing the boundaries set by their parents or figures of authority.

The Impact on Image Awareness

One of the many ways that social media can have a harmful impact on young people is that it may influence their views about image, both relating to their self-image and the perception of image in society in general. Many young people feel that social media creates an unattainable image of both men and women. They also believe that they have to look a certain way when posting images of themselves. This can cause a young person to have diminished self-worth and low self-esteem as they may mistakenly believe that they are not achieving the standards set by society and are not, therefore, good enough or worthy of love and friendship.

Accessing Inappropriate Content

A major concern for all parents and everyone working in a professional capacity to support, educate, or care for children is the inappropriate content it is possible to access via social media sites. While spending time online, children and young people may become exposed to images and videos that are intended for an older audience, such as violence and pornography. This, in turn, can influence how a young person feels they should behave towards others and the perception they have of the opposite gender and sexual relationships.

Online Bullying

Sadly, the experience many young people have when they have a social media account is bullying. Bullies use the Internet as a way of sending hurtful and demeaning messages to someone when they are not under the supervision of a responsible adult. It is often much easier for a bully to persecute someone online than in a school, home or social environment. The impact of this on someone who has experienced Internet bullying has the potential to cause long-term harm to a young person’s mental and emotional health and wellbeing.

Grooming and Radicalisation

Just as concerning is the risk of grooming and radicalisation. There is a trend amongst young people towards getting as many friends, followers, likes and shares as possible as it makes them feel popular. A way of doing this is to accept friend requests from people they do not know. The danger of this is that a child knows nothing about this person. In fact, it is possible that the profile is completely fake and there is no resemblance between the account user and the profile they are using for their online accounts. There are two big concerns with this; grooming and radicalisation.

A young person may befriend someone online who they believe is much younger than they truly are. This person may groom them by giving out compliments and liking their posts before persuading them to take their friendship further by meeting up in person. When the young person arrives for the meeting it turns out that their young online friend is actually an adult who has groomed them, usually with sexual motivations.

Similarly, an online friendship is an opportunity for those involved in extremist groups and terrorist activities to influence the beliefs and opinions of a young person. They may feed them with information that persuades the young person to begin acting in a different manner that may include risk-taking and criminal activities.

Communication and Social Skills

In a variety of studies conducted by sociologists, psychologists, and child behaviourists, there has been evidence that using social media can impact negatively on children’s communication and social skills. Of course, this is a significant area of concern as it is important that children and young people develop these skills as a natural part of their continuing development. Rather than becoming involved in a variety of social activities, a child has the potential to become dependant on social media for all their interactions and recreational entertainment.

Is it All Bad?

With the focus constantly on the negative aspects of children and young people using social media sites, it is easy to assume that it is all bad. However, this is not necessarily the case as research has also uncovered some positive elements of young people using social media with the supervision of adults. The main positive aspect of using such sites is that children have reported that their experiences online have made them feel happy. Another positive element of social media is that it can help children who find verbal and social communication difficult to feel connected to their peers.

Safeguarding Children in Relation to Social Media

As a parent, there are steps you can take to safeguard your child from the risks posed by using social media. One of the easiest measures is to prevent children from setting up social media accounts until they are old enough to do so. Once they have an account, you should discuss the ground rules and ensure they are aware of the risks and how to avoid them. You can also limit their use and remove devices that can access the Internet at bedtimes or when they are alone in their rooms.

If you are working in a professional capacity with young children, then there are also strategies you can use to reduce the risk of Internet use as much as possible. The first step to take is gain as much knowledge around this subject as you can so you are fully aware of the risks and what you can do as part of your safeguarding responsibilities. A simple way of doing this is to undertake an online safeguarding course as part of your continuous professional development. You can also keep up with current legislation with regards to safeguarding and ensure you are fully aware of your workplace’s safeguarding guidelines and policies.

Anyone who is interested in learning more about safeguarding and people who need to update their knowledge of this subject for professional reasons should check out our range of related courses at

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