Living in a digital world

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THESE days it is rare to find a teenager who does not have at least one social media account. It is usually more than one.

Clearly, social media is no fad. This may be a brave new world for many parents but it is not new for young people who have grown up in a digital world.

When I speak to young people, I’m always interested in hearing about how they use and often misuse technology. We are seeing increasing numbers of young people who have secret social media accounts, who are creating accounts before the recommended age of 13 years and who are being exposed to unsuitable content.

Recently I saw an ad for a popular brand of mobile phones that allows the user to manipulate images, of themselves and others. At its simplest level, this can be seen as harmless fun but it may send the wrong messages to young people and become a source of online bullying.

Young people who follow celebrity Instagram or Facebook accounts are seeing polished content and manipulated images that may create a false reality. The desire to be popular or liked on social media is becoming lucrative. It is not uncommon for teenagers to remove posts or images that are not instantly liked or shared for fear of being seen as unpopular.

Banning or demonising social media is not the answer. At the same time, we don’t want a generation of young people who are more interested in creating images of a perfect life rather than just living their life.

Teenagers tell me that the education process needs to begin at a younger age. Children who are on You-Tube watching pretty harmless content can come across “trending videos” that might not be quite so harmless.

Social media platforms are not designed to act as “filters”, so it is the responsibility of adults (parents and teachers) to put safeguards in place to maintain online safety. One of the best ways we can do this is to be on social media platforms ourselves. That way we have a better understanding of how the platforms work and what the risks are, particularly for young people.

b Greg Whitby is the executive

director of schools for the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta