Younger kids increasingly using social media

VIGILANT: Jenny Dravitzki uses an iPad to monitor the Facebook use of her son, Bill Dravitzki, right, and friend Nash Biggs in the family’s Stoke home.
VIGILANT: Jenny Dravitzki uses an iPad to monitor the Facebook use of her son, Bill Dravitzki, right, and friend Nash Biggs in the family’s Stoke home.

Children as young as seven are stepping out into the social media world, some with as many as 500 friends, and parents have been advised to keep a closer watch on their children's online lives.

Internet safety and risk assessment consultant John Parsons said that since he started talking to Nelson schools about internet safety several years ago, there had been a gradual trend towards younger and younger children signing up to social media websites.

Some had signed up as a way to communicate with distant relatives, and others did so as a way to keep up with their older siblings.

In both scenarios, parents and other family members usually played an active role in helping the child use the service at first, but their supervision then dropped off, he said.

"Then [the children] are off to form friendships with people they have never met."

Facebook has a minimum age limit of 13.

Preschools and schools that used iPads and other devices were also kindling an attachment and an interest with the internet at an early age, Mr Parsons said.

This was not necessarily a bad thing, but it underscored the need for parents to be aware of online activity.

"The risks that exist in the real world exist in cyberspace. The internet didn't create predators, paedophiles and criminals - they simply went to the internet to further their own causes."

Mr Parsons said that if parents or children created the account to connect with grandparents, he thought it should be created in the parent's name and image.

Parents should also look into the services being offered to their children, and pay particular attention to how a service protected their child's privacy, and how it made money.

"The key is that the parent leads the way, rather than the child."

Mr Parsons has included advice on young internet users in the latest issue of the bimonthly Nelson Crime Watch newsletter, sent out in association with the Nelson police and SeniorNet.

Stoke School principal Pete Mitchener, whose school has a suite of iPads in regular use by all pupils, said younger pupils occasionally told teachers they had their own social media account, or used their parents' accounts.

When this happened, the school contacted parents to let them know, and to discuss the issue and potential dangers.

"Whether they are playing the games or not, it's not a controlled environment."

Rather than hiding from the internet, families should look at a safe way of approaching its use, he said.

Stoke parent Jenny Dravitzki keeps a close watch on her 11-year-old son Billy's internet habits, including the use of social media sites like Facebook.

She said that when one child posted crude and inappropriate photos on Facebook, and received a large amount of "likes" from his schoolmates, she asked Billy to "un-friend" him, and told his parents.

"They got quite offended. I would be glad if someone told me.

"I got this attitude that, 'My child wouldn't do that'. They haven't seen what their child has done."

She had been worried that the other boy would be aggressive towards her son. Instead, he wanted them to remain friends, and had repeatedly asked her son to "re-friend" him on Facebook.

Mrs Dravitzki said children often lacked empathy on the internet, not realising that their online actions affected real people.

"In their environment, [it is] okay to put images of their friends in awkward or compromising images."

In some cases, the Christchurch earthquake and the resulting relocation of families to other centres had led children to create Facebook accounts to keep in touch with their friends, which was fair enough, she said.

Mrs Dravitzki has organised a workshop aimed at parents and teachers, hosted by Mr Parsons, who will speak about understanding children and technology.

The workshop will be held at Sports House in Saxton Stadium on August 28 at 7pm.

Email to register.

The Nelson Mail