In a week in which World Children’s Day is celebrated, we want to address a relevant issue: the relationship between children and the world of technology in general and social networks in particular.
According to data from the United Nations, a child connects to the Internet for the first time in his or her life every half second.
Social networks and childhood: advantages and disadvantages
In the face of possible negative influences of social networks on the development of children and adolescents, there are experts in digital education, such as María Zabala, who advocate normalizing the digital technology we have around us, incorporating it into family life and the education received by minors.
For this reason, Zabala explains that today’s teenagers are no different from those of other times, with the key being the conversations that are established between the child and the adult.
Thus, the expert sums up the situation by saying that if a teenager is doing well in general terms, he or she will not be worse off because of social networks. However, this situation may be different for minors in vulnerable situations.
All this does not obviate the fact that there are dangerous situations for whose control it is essential for adults to be aware of the content consumed by minors, although it also has a number of advantages. Let’s see what they are.
Advantages of social networks in childhood
Let’s start with the advantages, which in general terms are more limited to the educational field. Some of these pros are:
- Content that can be viralized. Social networks can be used to viralize positive contents such as social awareness campaigns, educational contents with original approaches, etc.
- It eliminates distances. The social gap can be reduced by giving the possibility of eliminating physical distances, with the relevance this has for enabling access to education in remote or poorly communicated areas.
- Immensity of educational resources. The amount of educational resources available on the Internet is extremely high, with hardly any discrimination by type of content or areas of interest. This can foster the desire to learn how to learn.
- Increase communication. With all due caution (as we will see later in the section on risks), the possibility of meeting people with similar tastes or common interests is an advantage of the Internet as it opens up an enormously wide range of possibilities for people.
- Entertainment. Games of different types, both individually and in groups, and the entertainment they bring with them is another advantage. As in everything, with common sense and parental control based on the appropriateness of the games according to the age of those who are playing and without losing sight of other factors that may be taken into account as potential risks in the development of minors.
- Formative entertainment. Especially useful for children with learning disabilities or some kind of disability, there are online games as resources to help in the care of these children.
- Technological skills. Thinking in the medium or long term, the acquisition of technological skills can help future professional development.
Possible risks of the Internet and social networks for children
Despite the undeniable advantages offered by the connected life, there are also a number of risks for children in the digital environment in general and social networks in particular that must be taken into account to be able to detect them and be able to act to combat and / or eradicate them:
- Cyberbullying. This form of digital violence can be evident in both social networks and instant messaging applications. To get an idea of the magnitude of this problem, and according to UN data, more than a third of minors in a study in 30 countries acknowledge having suffered cyberbullying. And 20% of them have even been absent from school for this reason.
- Hate speech and violent content. In vulnerable environments with little control, a breeding ground for recruitment (or rapprochement) to extremist or terrorist groups, or even self-harming behaviors that in the worst cases lead to suicide, can emerge.
- Disinformation. Related to the above, using platforms that live on disinformation and conspiracy theories as sources of information can have a particularly harmful effect.
- Threat of sexual exploitation and abuse. Without denying the importance of all of the above risks, perhaps this may be the most alarming. For child sex offenders, it has never been easier to make contact with their victims, either by sharing images or by encouraging others to commit such crimes. In fact, and again according to the United Nations, four out of five children in 25 countries surveyed say they have felt at risk of sexual abuse or exploitation online.
- Sedentary life. Although it is not directly attributable to social networks, it is true that excessive use of these networks is associated with more time spent with the cell phone or computer and, therefore, less time available for physical activity.
Committed to the responsible use of technology
Telefónica, with a focus on the fact that children are the age group most often in a situation of marginalization and vulnerability, is committed to protecting and promoting their rights as part of its business strategy.
In order to encourage the responsible use of technology and promote safer digital environments, the operator is developing six lines of work to protect children in the online environment:
- Blocking content of images of sexual abuse of minors, through collaboration with the Internet Watch Foundation.
- Promotion and development of products and services that help families to successfully deal with the challenges of the digital world.
- Alliances with third parties (NGOs, entities and experts or law enforcement) to help raise awareness to learn how to manage existing risks on the network but also to know the window of opportunities it offers.
- Audiovisual environment that has changed the way of television consumption in which parents can have the technical means to exercise their responsibility over the audiovisual content that minors may see.
- Joint work with suppliers, especially with regard to security, from operating systems to the design of terminals.
- Educational and awareness-raising initiatives that lead to reflection and debate and promote good digital habits.