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How to speak to a young person about staying safe online

staying safe online

Social Media Kindness Day and Anti-Bullying Week both take place in November, so what better time to discuss staying safe on social media?

In today’s digital age, social media has become a huge part of young people’s lives. Approximately 9 in 10 children aged 10 to 15 years go online every day, with six in ten admitting to speaking online with someone they’d never met before.*

While social media has many benefits, like providing connection and self-expression, it also comes with potential risks. According to Ofcom, almost three in ten children aged 8-17 have experienced someone being nasty or hurtful to them via online apps or platforms.** There has also, according to the NSPCC, been an 82% increase in online grooming crimes against children in the last five years.*** Such concerns, as well as social media’s potential exposure to inappropriate content and fake news, are all concerning.

Whilst many children and young people are clued up about staying safe online, this can vary from individual to individual. Therefore, it can be helpful for a foster carer to establish their foster child’s existing knowledge and to put safeguarding rules in place, where appropriate.  

Here are our five top tips for speaking to a young person about staying safe on social media…

1. Start with an open conversation

Having an open and non-judgmental conversation about social media safety can be a great place to start. Encourage them to share their experiences and any concerns they may have. This can also be a great chance to establish a young person’s existing knowledge about social media safety. Letting a young person know there is a safe space to talk about any concerns is important, especially when it comes to topics like cyberbullying.

2. Make sure you’re clued up on social media safety

Finding out more about online safety is really helpful for enabling you to guide and advise on the topic yourself. There are a lot of online resources you can access to further your knowledge on topics like the importance of a strong password and how to adjust the privacy settings on various social media platforms. The NSPCC and BBC both have online resources you can access for free, for example.

3. Teach critical thinking

Encourage critical thinking when evaluating the authenticity of online information. Young people should learn to question the sources of information, as there is a lot of fake news online. Explain the concept of not sharing personal information with strangers online and recognising warning signs of predatory behaviour. Some foster children have past experiences of trauma and abuse, so this is a particularly important point that should be handled with sensitivity and care.

4. Encourage balanced screen time

Discuss the importance of balancing online and offline activities. Young people should learn that spending excessive time on social media can have negative effects on their mental and emotional well-being. You could put rules in place, like not using phones during meals or before bed.

5. Supervise, but respect independence

While it’s essential to supervise a foster child or young person’s online activities, it is also key to respect their independence. This will largely depend on the age of the young person in question. For example, a younger child may require parental controls to be in place when using the internet. Try to offer guidance, but allow the young person to make decisions within reasonable boundaries.

Navigating the world of social media can be challenging for adults, children and young people alike. By having an open and informed conversation, you can empower a young person to make safe and responsible choices online. Remember that being supportive, building trust and offering guidance are key to encouraging responsible online behaviour.

Our team are always here to discuss any worries or concerns you may have, so don’t hesitate to reach out.

Could you provide a safe space for children across Yorkshire and the North East? Start your application with Unity Foster Care today. Our friendly team are on hand to answer any questions you may have, as well as support you in starting your fostering journey.

To make a start on your application, call us on 0333 772 2333 or contact us online and we’ll be in touch.

*https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/childrensonlinebehaviourinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2020

** https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0027/255852/childrens-media-use-and-attitudes-report-2023.pdf  

*** https://www.nspcc.org.uk/about-us/news-opinion/2023/2023-08-14-82-rise-in-online-grooming-crimes-against-children-in-the-last-5-years/