How many of us sit down on an evening to watch TV and look around to see children or partners face down in their smartphone, tablet or laptop?

Smartphone chain

Not an uncommon experience these days but what is it doing to our family life?

Family lawyers often hear of distressing stories where an ex uses the children to spy on the previous partner by using “Skype” or “facetime” technology. These communication tools are useful when used to keep in touch with loved ones but take on a whole new sinister meaning in the hands of someone with an ulterior motive.

What cases such as this also highlight is the danger of these tools in the hands of those who are not so worldly wise.

In a recent discussion on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour I was posed hypothetical questions raised by their listeners as genuine “real life” examples of social media intrusion.

1. How I would respond to accusations of being an alcoholic by a friend of my daughter who’d heard we were having a wine fridge installed and posted the comment on her very popular Facebook page?

2. In another scenario how would I deal with a son or daughter who posted embarrassing video of me on YouTube celebrating a Barbarians rugby victory over Australia?

These are two real examples experienced by radio 4 listeners and there are hundreds more like this.  I’m sure we can all point to at least one “awkward” social media experience.

The answer is to set clear ground rules. Not just for the children but the whole family. If mum or dad post inappropriate photos on facebook or instagram it is highly likely the kids will see this as license to behave as badly on their own accounts. Trust and respect for personal privacy is at the heart of good social media etiquette.

The issue of privacy has raised its head a few times in the house of Laud’s – that’s when an embarrassing shot of one of the family appears on instagram or Facebook.  In our home we can face fines of up to £5 if a mugshot or video clip appears on a social networking site without permission.  It works, as I found out to my cost.  My youngest daughter fined me £45 for 9 counts of posting without permission following my “proud dad” uploads from a holiday in Spain.  She was quite within her rights as I had overlooked the very important need to obtain the OK of the subject in the shot.  To be honest I think she was a little surprised her protestations proved successful but we can’t afford to be hypocritical with our children and we need to put our hands up and admit our mistakes.  As a result everyone in the family is now acutely aware of the implications and treads very carefully around the issue ensuring awareness and consent when agreeing to upload or be tagged in a photo online.

After a rather slow start schools have made great strides to understand and manage pupil engagement with handheld technology and the growing number of social media platforms. Primary schools quite rightly banning phones during the school day, introducing their own social sites for after school activities and secondary schools introducing best practice guidance and building it into the curriculum. The fear unfortunately remains that when the children are in the wifi home environment their parents just don’t know what their children are doing online and who they are talking to.

For the 14-18 year old generation we are mostly playing “catch up” as the genie is well and truly out of the bottle. This generation has grown up with social networking sites and have a knowledge and understanding far beyond most parents teachers and so called “experts”.  It then becomes an ever harder task to persuade them of the dangers of posting too many “selfies” or drunken escapades and more importantly be made aware of the more malicious intent of predator posters and followers?

Recent Advertising Standards Authority research highlighted the scale of the problem of children lying about their age on social networks. It identified 42% of respondents as being younger than the 18 year old they were attempting to be.  It’s also a worry to note that many parents are either unaware or consider it unimportant that their pre-teen child is on Facebook when the sites permitted entry age is 13, they therefore have created false profiles to obtain an account.

New image based social sites are also a concern.  Vine and Snapchat are 2 that offer time limited posts.  Despite the belief that many posts are transient, specifically Snapchats selling point, that messages are wiped away in an instant, we know that is just not the case. The web has a long and unforgiving memory and for the sake of future careers and relationships the sooner we understand the risks the better.

Of course social media sites offer great opportunities to share and make friends and these are clear positive aspects. It’s true that I have my own children to thank for my interest in social media. A parents curiosity that became a large part of my life.  Unfortunately the risks are real and we need to protect and educate against exposure to self-made stupidity, inappropriate content and individuals.

Understanding how to make social networking safe has become an essential skill for parents, teachers, managers and business owners and we owe it to ourselves to improve our collective knowledge.

If you are concerned and want help managing social media related issues at work or at home please drop us a line, we’d be happy to help.

David Laud

Small Screen Invasion of the Social Media Minors
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