Social media safety guidelines needed for pre-teens, youth conference told

Parents’ belief social media should only be used from 16 ignores fact 10 year olds using it

‘We need to think if 10-year-olds and 11-year-olds are using it, are there resources we have to help them remain safe’. Photograph: iStock

‘We need to think if 10-year-olds and 11-year-olds are using it, are there resources we have to help them remain safe’. Photograph: iStock

 

Children as young as 10 and 11 years of age need guidelines on how to use social media safely and appropriately, the head of a national youth mental health programme has said.

Parents’ belief that teenagers should only start using social media sites when they are 16 years old, ignores the fact young people as young as 10 are often using them, Siobhán O’Dwyer, chief executive of the Youth Advocate Programme (YAP) said.

“We need to think if 10-year-olds and 11-year-olds are using it, are there resources we have to help them remain safe,” she said.

YAP works with young people who have been assigned social workers, and runs intensive six-month mental health support programmes. Problems with social media are now a common issue, young people using the service report, alongside problems arising from bullying, isolation, and poverty, O’Dwyer said.

There was an absence of advice for young teenagers on how to appropriately use social media platforms, she said.

On Thursday, YAP held a national conference at Croke Park, attended by over 150 young people. Local groups across the country presented projects they had worked on over the past year, on the issue of mental health and wellbeing. The service works with up to 600 young people and their families each year.

In May, the Dáil voted to raise the digital age of consent - where a young person can make an agreement with an online service provider - from 13 to 16 years of age. The Government had opposed the changes, but it passed with support from Fianna Fáil.

Raising the age limit has been criticised by several children’s rights groups who said it could block children accessing support or information online, that they could be reluctant or unable to ask an adult for.

It is the policy of Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat that all users must be at least 13-years-old to create an account on their sites.

Services under pressure

Mental health services for young people were under resourced and under pressure, O’Dwyer said. Social workers in many cases had large caseloads, and there was a recognised shortage of in-patient psychiatric beds designated for children and adolescents, she said.

Margaret Geraldine Ward (16), from Tullamore, Co Offaly, was one young person involved with YAP attending the event.

Young people were more “talk active” about their mental health, she said. “My family wouldn’t talk about anything wrong with them, but then me and my friends yabber on about everything.

“We’ve all known about mental health from school from really young, so it’s easier to talk about,” she said.

Ward, who enters sixth year in September, said the past stigma of mental health not being treated as a serious health issue had been over-corrected, she felt. Now people had a tendency to define someone with mental health difficulties entirely by their illness, she said.

“You can heal a broken leg and no one thinks about it again, but if you went through depression, people are always going to go back to that, ’oh you had depression’, it’s kind of too much dramatics on it,” she said.