The two sides of social media

12 April 2018

Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

These days it is rare to find a teenager who doesn’t have at least one social media account. It is usually more than one. Clearly, social media is no fad. We are only at the beginning of what is will become even more powerful social media platforms and virtual reality. 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 sometimes before the recommended age of 13 years and who are being exposed to unsuitable content.

Just recently I saw an ad for a popular brand of mobile phones that now 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 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 for young people. 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 YouTube watching pretty harmless content can quite easily come across ‘trending videos’ that might not be quite so harmless. Social media platforms aren’t designed to act as ‘filters’, so it is the responsibility of adults (i.e. 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 like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram ourselves. That way we have a better understanding of how the platforms work and what the risks are, particularly for young people.

Greg Whitby AM

Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta


Greg Whitby is the Executive Director of Schools - Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta
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