Social Media – how parents can take control

The social media has been likened to the new Wild West – where anything goes, progress is good whatever the consequence, lawlessness is the rule and the biggest and boldest win. Or ‘Lord of the Flies’, William Golding’s book where young people are left to make up their own rules because the adults have left, with the inevitable consequences.

One things is clear – it is time for adults, both parents and teachers, to step in and help the young people through these challenges. Survey after survey shows issues related to mental health and bullying linked to social media, sleep deprivation and the development of social media ‘addiction’. For too long we have left the children on the island, fending for themselves, either because we can’t understand the issues or can’t see what to do about them. I would suggest two strands for urgent action.

The first is to control the source. Most schools ban phone use in the day, so the opportunity for social media interaction is limited. Outside school it is the role of parents to limit and control the use of social media. It is simplistic to assert that without a smart phone social media disappears, but it is most definitely diminished. Parents buy smart phones and in doing so unleash the social media beast. The usual pressures will be there – ‘everyone else is on line’, ‘I’ll be left out if I don’t have Instagram’ ; but this will never change unless parents, with a collective voice, just say no. There really can’t be a good reason for those under 13 or so to be using social media at all. No parent would buy their child a box of matches without lessons about the risks of fire. And yet, perhaps we do just that with phones. Older teenagers need to have use controlled and checked. They will resist, they will speak about privacy and have the teenage equivalent of a tantrum. But there is a need to act – this is one of those times we know better than they do what is good for them. Certainly phones should be removed and safely stored before teenage children head to bed. Many of the most debilitating social media exchanges happen in the early hours. This will require courage and determination and effort. So did teaching our children how to cross the road and to try a variety of foods when they were younger. We must do it for them.

The second strand of action is education for both parents and children and here schools are well placed to help out. They cannot realistically help out by chasing up each out of school social media encounter that has caused upset (although there will be some they must). What they can do is shape the discussion of what ‘good use’ of social media looks like, how to think about the well-known problems of visibility, persistence and range. Teenagers have not really changed but what once were throw away lines in a shopping mall discussion are now written and recorded for posterity and viewed by hundreds. Many adults use social media positively, maintaining long distance friendship, keeping up to date with the news and for spreading the news. We can role model good examples as well as preach about danger.

The moment to act is now, and indeed might have been some while ago, if we are to save a generation from a blight on their younger years.



About Philip Britton

Philip Britton is Headmaster of Bolton School Boys’ Division. He was brought up on Tyneside, took a first in physics at Oxford and did teacher training at Cambridge. He worked as physics teacher, Head of Physics and Deputy Head at Leeds Grammar School before moving to Bolton in 2008. In 2010 he was awarded an MBE for services to physics and is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics where he has been much involved in physics education, encouraging teachers to encourage the next generation of physicists.