With the majority of young people’s social interaction being done online these days, it is becoming increasingly important for parents and foster carers to monitor their children’s activity online. For foster carers, there are some extra threats to their foster child’s safety that they need to take into account. Being able to identify these threats is the first step in protecting your foster child. It is practically impossible to stop children and young people from engaging with some sort of Social Media, so instead of trying to ban it, you should try and manage it.
1. ‘Off Limits’ Contact
One of the unique dangers to foster children is the chance that they may be contacted by an ‘off limits’ family member through Social Media. When a child is taken into care, this may be because a family member was abusive or neglectful which may have resulted in them being banned from contacting the child. Social Media is an easy and discreet way for them to do this which could distort the child’s view of that person.
Set some Social Media rules, including a rule that if an ‘off limits’ person does try to contact them, they must not reply and they must tell you straight away. If you have your computer in a shared space, you can check who they are talking to every now and then to make sure.
2. Emotional Impact
Social Media is used by a lot of people to boast or brag about the great things in their life, giving a distorted view of how things really are. It can be particularly distressing for a foster child to see other children their age enjoying a ‘normal’ family life, which can lead to jealously and depression.
Give your foster child some good memories to reflect on. Have fun with them and take them out on day trips. Explain that Social Media can give a distorted view of people’s lives and that they should appreciate what they have in their life.
3. Cyber Bullying
Unfortunately, some people, especially young people, use Social Media to bully others. Foster children are particularly vulnerable to cyber bullying because they may be perceived as ‘different’ due to their personal circumstances. If you notice a negative change in your foster child’s mood when they use Social Media, this may be due to cyber bullying.
Ensure they only connect with people on Social Media who are genuine, caring friends. If you do notice a change in your foster child’s mood when they use Social Media, talk to them about it. If you find that someone is bullying them, try to contact the school or parents of that child to sort it out.
4. Online Predators
There is always a threat that children using Social Media will come across an online predator at some point. This type of person may try to groom the child, trick them into thinking they are someone else, engage in inappropriate conversations or try to arrange a meeting. This is one of the biggest dangers online and something you should warn your foster child about and get them to tell you if a stranger approaches them online.
As one of your Social Media rules, ensure your foster child does not speak to strangers online. You should also always know where they are going and who they are meeting.
5. Age inappropriate content
There is a lot of ‘over 18’ content on the Internet and even some illegal content which could be extremely harmful to your foster child if they came across it. Some web browsers have a ‘Safety Mode’ which will prevent any of this content appearing, but you should also monitor what is being posted on your foster child’s Social Media accounts to prevent them from stumbling across something which may disturb them.
Set your web browsers and Social Media accounts to ‘Safety’ or ‘Family’ mode. This will prevent inappropriate content from appearing but you can also monitor their Social Media activity if you have your computer in a shared space.
Users between the ages of 15 – 19 spend an average of 3 hours per day on Social Media and 18% of all Social Media users say they can’t go a few hours without checking Facebook. This highlights the threat of Social Media addiction. If your foster child becomes too reliant on Social Media, not only will it affect their real life social skills but it may cause procrastination and prevent them from achieving other important things in life.
As one of your Social Media rules, set a time limit for Social Media use. Perhaps allow them an hour a day at a certain time when you know you will be in the house. Encourage them to take part in real life activities to keep them occupied.
Keeping your foster child safe online may be difficult, but as long as you keep an open mind, communicate well and educate them on the dangers then hopefully they will have a positive experience on Social Media. It is important for foster children to feel ‘normal’, so allowing them to use Social Media will help do this. If you try and ban it, you risk them using Social Media behind your back and then they will encounter all of these dangers without your guidance. You should also speak to your fostering agency about their Social Media policies. For more information or advice, please contact us today.