Children on social media: Strict control or autonomous access?

Parents should follow some guidelines when using social media to shape children's behaviour they want to instil.

07 May 2024 08:15am
Both strict control and unfettered access have downsides, what truly matters is the motivation behind the approach parents take. Photo for illustrative purposes only - 123RF
Both strict control and unfettered access have downsides, what truly matters is the motivation behind the approach parents take. Photo for illustrative purposes only - 123RF

SHAH ALAM - Both strict control and autonomous access for children to handle social media accounts have their downsides, but what truly matters is the motivation behind the approach parents take.

Malaysian Society of Clinical Psychology president Joel Low said that shielding children from social media arises from a place of fear and paranoia regarding potential negative outcomes.

He warned that allowing fear to dictate such decisions might ultimately be detrimental.

He made these remarks in response to the debate surrounding primary school-aged children having their own social media accounts, and the parental decisions involved.

“I think at the end of the day, it is hard for us to have a definitive answer to these initiatives. I think I can see the merits and cons of both iterations.

“Also, because the child never grew up with the guidance of parents in the use of social media, when they do have access to it, it can be like putting the proverbial sweet-toothed child into a candy store with an unlimited credit card.

“Same goes the other way as well. If the intention is to ‘force’ the child to be famous, then we may be trying to get the child to be something that they’re not and doing so without their permission as well,” he said when contacted recently.

Low expressed the complexity of the issue, acknowledging both the benefits and drawbacks of allowing children access to social media without proper guidance.

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Moreover, Low cautioned against the idea of pushing children into the spotlight on social media without their consent, likening it to imposing career paths on them against their will.

“Imagine your entire life online and you don’t get to decide for yourself, that can be quite traumatic, especially when we are reminded of the fact that whatever gets on the internet never goes away,” Low added.

Therefore, he proposed some guidelines for parents to follow when using social media to shape the behaviour they want to instil in their children.

This involves modelling the desired traits and behaviours themselves, serving as a general rule for interacting and teaching children.

For instance, if parents wish to cultivate generosity in their children, they should demonstrate acts of kindness and charity.

Similarly, to teach respect, parents must exhibit respectful behaviour in their interactions with others.

Likewise, he emphasised that if parents seek to regulate their children's social media usage, they must set an example by controlling their own usage.

He said if parents wanted their kids to be generous, as parent, they need to show them that parents donate and help others.

“If parents want their children to respect others, they need to show respect when they interact with others,” he said.

Similarly, he highlighted that if parents wanted to control the use of their children’s social media use or exposure, they have to model such behaviour.

“We cannot remind or reprimand their behaviour about online use while we ourselves engage in similar behaviour.

“If we have to use the internet for work while at home, invite our children to watch or at least let them know,” he said.

Previously, The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) reminded parents to ensure that their children under 13 do not own any social media accounts.

Communications Minister Fahmi Fadzil said this was because the commission found that it was not appropriate for children under 13 to use any social media.

Fahmi said social media platforms currently leave account registration to users fully without any way of proving their age met the necessary requirements and his ministry has held a series of meetings with relevant parties, including Meta - owner of Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp - and Telegram, to present their plans to tackle the ownership of social media accounts among children under 13.

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