Children drinking energy drinks meant for adults. Families using social media to share experiences about their neurodivergent children. In this day and age, how are parents navigating social media, through all its good and bad?
In a recent conversation on BFM, Najmin Tajudin of makchic talks to radio host Lim Sue Ann about how parents are using social media and the rise of social media influencers using children, or “kidfluencers,” in promoted content targeted towards families and children. Below are some highlights of the interview:
Parents on social media: connection and community
Sue Ann: What have you seen among your community of parents, in terms of what they are willing to share, and why they are using social media?
Najmin: Some friends have chosen to use their platforms to raise more awareness about certain issues; for example, when their child is on the spectrum or neurodivergent. Sometimes, parents just want to be seen, and heard, and share their stories. It is a way for them to create a community, so they can learn from each other.
I have also seen friends that are the complete opposite. Their social media is their own. Their kids are not on their accounts, and they don’t share updates about them online. I know friends that live, continents apart, from their families or extended circle of friends. It is then about accessibility and convenience; they use social media as a way to update their loved ones.
There is a balance that we all try to strike in our own ways. I have always taken the view that it is not my place to judge. It all boils down to personal choices- about their own comfort level, their own personal boundaries, set of values, and what they hope to achieve.
Kids in online content: Yay or Nay?
Sue Ann: You have spoken about the benefits of social media – but, we also often hear about the dark side of social media. As a parent, what are your concerns about the content of kids being online?
Najmin: We all have concerns about content we are sharing about ourselves and our families online. The nature of social media is that when it is public, your posts can reach beyond your own community. Then, you do open yourself to greater scrutiny, and innocuous posts can be taken wildly out of context. Parenting is hard enough without having to deal with others’ judgmental takes on how you are doing it all wrong.
As a parenting platform, we have put our children ‘out there’ on makchic. Recently, to share the struggles of getting our kids ready for school, my son joined me in a fun reel that showed how chaotic school runs can be. My son was game about this [and] made some hilarious acting choices on his own. My general take is that there is no great harm in sharing this little bit of fun online – [but] I would be hesitant to share certain content online, [such as] nude bath time shots.
We also have to be mindful about sharing photos of other people’s children. Their beliefs and values might be different from ours. The same kind of rules apply to my kids, now that they are old enough to be on their own social media accounts. They are not to share certain information with the strangers they meet online, such as their full name, physical address, phone number, and the school they go to. Exploring privacy and what it means- the digital footprint that you might want to leave behind- these are issues parents are still educating themselves on, and grappling with.
The rise of social media influencers
Sue Ann: With parents becoming social media influencers, we often see that their kids are involved in photos or videos. What’s your take on this?
Najmin: Social media has allowed us to share content. It can be silly and fun, or meaningful and informative. I think that it is natural for many parents to share what they love about certain brands, or products they are using, [or parenting tips]. These reviews, when coming from voices that others trust, are [often] seen as “truth.” What is different now, is that brands are utilising this, and content creators can actually monetise their content.
We have been very careful about cultivating this trust amongst our readers and our community, by ensuring that the brands that we work with are aligned to our own values and ethos. There are no general guidelines out there for parents, and there is no code of conduct. It is all down to judgement call, based on our own internal values and beliefs.
Kidfluencers: valid concerns or over-reaction?
Sue Ann: I have also come across posts where kids are the ones selling the products, which is different, because we are talking about minors here. Do you think that this should be seen differently? Are the concerns different when compared to parents doing the content creation?
Najmin: This is an interesting conversation to have – and it is very easy to judge parents when they do this. But let’s try and see this another way. Look at the content they are making. When my son was younger, he watched the YouTube channel, Ryan’s World [for toy reviews]. I can’t deny that my son was influenced by this. He tried out the toys that Ryan reviewed, and looked fun to play with. As a kidfluencer, Ryan is incredibly successful.
We have to give parents the benefit of the doubt that they do have their children’s best interests at heart, and that this is a way to secure their children’s future. All of us are looking for best practices. But I do believe that some of the concerns are valid. This is when we have to remember that children always come first [and] ensure that their rights are protected.
When products are targeted at kids
Sue Ann: When you have kids on social media, there are ads that are overtly targeting children. Is that something we should be concerned about, or are we over-reacting?
Najmin: We do have to be careful about advertisements and promoted content aimed at children. They don’t have the experience to recognise advertisements, when compared to adults. They find it harder to resist being persuaded by these types of content. And it can be deceptive, when it blurs the lines between entertainment and product placements.
While there are some ways to go on this issue, we have to give props to steps that have been taken by social media platforms to minimise advertisements directed towards children. For example, Instagram has additional policies in place to limit options that advertisers can use to target young people under 18 years. In some countries, this age limit is higher. In Thailand, it is 20, and in Indonesia, 21. There are certain steps already in place to ensure that it is safer for kids.
When is the right time?
Najmin: We get asked this question all the time, “when is the right time to introduce kids to social media?” And there are no hard-and-fast rules – it’s all dependent on the family, and the child.
In a book I have read called, Raising Humans in A Digital World by Diana Graber, the author shared some questions parents could consider:
- Do [your kids] know how to make and maintain safe and healthy relationships? Because it would be the same, when it comes to online and offline lives.
- Do they know how to manage their reputation?
- Have they developed the social and emotional skills to use these wisely?
- Do they know how to protect their privacy and personal information?
This might be different for different kids. Some kids might be ready earlier, and others, later. All these questions and ideas about skills that are relevant offline and online [are] how parents can gauge whether their kids are ready to be on social media.
Social media is harder on teenage girls
Sue Ann: As a parent with 2 teenage girls on social media, what are your concerns about them being online, on social media and putting themselves out there?
Najmin: I do feel that it is harder on girls. They are constantly bombarded with ideals of what they should be – how they should act, and how they should look. When I was growing up, I was only getting these ideas from my immediate circle of friends and family, [but] they are getting it from everyone. They have to deal with these very unrealistic ideas, and this has been the toughest challenge for me personally.
I know that many parents are concerned about the anxiety social media is causing their kids, and I think the concerns are valid. They do get unwanted attention. Reports have stated that they do get unsolicited comments and things like that. We might not be able to prevent that, but I think it is very important that we talk to them about steps they can take if someone behaves inappropriately online.
Targets for online grooming
Najmin: There are also obvious concerns about grooming. 13 to 14-year-olds are the most vulnerable targets for online grooming. So, I think it is useful for parents to be aware of the signs – kids wanting to spend more time on the Internet, being secretive about who they are talking to, switching screens when you approach, or exhibiting behaviours that you don’t typically see – and step in when needed.
It is really hard for girls their age, because this is the time when they are formulating the person they think they are. Even in my 40s, I am struggling with self-doubts about the things I am seeing online. I think it is harder for them as they are trying to figure out their identity.
The 3Cs for kids and tips for parents
Najmin: I simplify it with my kids to just practise the 3Cs [from Diana Graber’s Raising Humans in a Digital World], because it’s simple to remember:
1. Conduct– be mindful of how you act online.
2. Content– always think about what you are sharing.
3. Caring– be thoughtful and kind.
For parents, I think it is useful to:
Set boundaries– when they are younger, it is important to monitor use, behaviour, and content. As they grow older, we have to step back and help them establish their own strategies for healthy use.
Be clear about what is acceptable– there should be a balance between being online and offline. It is important for parents to lead by example. There are many templates online about creating your own digital rules as a family.
Get involved– we have to understand different kinds of content out there, and what they are looking at. My kids have interests that I may not be interested in, but I think it’s important for me to keep on supporting, encouraging and listening to them when they do share about the interests that they cultivate online.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. For further tips and deeper insight into this topic, catch the conversation on BFM’s Live & Learn podcast here.