Risks of social media for children and adolescents, how to behave

Source: Shutterstock

The risks of the Internet and social networks they are varied for the youngest: if children and young people are not guided in the right way by gentlemen and educators, they can face numerous dangers. This is demonstrated by the recent and sad news story concerning the 10-year-old girl who tied her belt to her throat to participate in a challenge on TikTok, which however turned into a tragedy.

In the book All Too Soon. The Sex Education of Our Children in the Internet Age (De Agostini), a new revised and updated edition of the bestseller from six years ago, again deals with one of the thorniest challenges facing parents and educators today. face: the relationship between sexuality and new technologies, and the skills adults need to take care of the digital well-being of children. Another topic dealt with is that of the problems given byabuse of video games, now widespread among young people.

Pre-adolescents and adolescents are subjected to constant and pressing stresses that push them to want everything immediately, to do everything too soon and to expose themselves to dangers they do not understand the extent. Immersed in the flow of social networks, they are induced to fight against their own bodies (convincing themselves that they must always be beautiful and sexy), against friends (to look bigger and better), against themselves (entering a spiral of promiscuous behavior and risky).

The volume aims to help families face and prevent these problems, without reticence and taboos, in an atmosphere of open and constructive dialogue in which adults know how to regain an educational role.

We interviewed , doctor and psychotherapist of the developmental age, researcher at the Department of Biomedical Sciences of the University of our city, where he deals with prevention in developmental age. In 2004 the Ministry of Health awarded him the silver medal of merit for public health.

In this article

  • "All too soon"
  • Tiktok, the challenges and the news
  • What are the areas in which children are most affected by the excessive use of social media?
  • Social media and sexuality, what happens?
  • Misuse of technology, the causes
  • Advice for parents, how to behave

"All too soon", the risks of the Internet and social networks

"More and more developmental specialists and parents are realizing that their children have tools in their hands that allow them to live experiences for which they are not ready: it is as if everything enters their life too soon. However, they do not know how to put the right filters: since everything arrives, they immerse themselves in everything, but since it is too early, this can be a big risk for their growth ", explains prof. Pellai.  

Read also: Teens and the web: all the dangers of the web

Tiktok, the challenges and the news

"The recent news from Palermo is a tragedy that tells us that not so much that the social network is not suitable for children, but that there is not a child in the world that is suitable for social media, by characteristics of mental functioning. A social network requires complex skills, from an emotional, cognitive and relational point of view: the child is learning them, therefore he is still immature.

Tiktok, the space in which the tragedy took place, is not a courtyard where a child can start doing fun things. The same social network prohibits entering if you are not 13 years old. This fact tragically shows that the system's ability to regulate the interactions of those who could not interact with it is practically nil». 

Read also: Safer Internet Day 2022: advice for parents

What are the areas in which children are most affected by the excessive use of social media?

«Socializing within a social network is very different from socializing within real life. Socialization tasks are very important tasks in developmental age and our children have to train in socialization experiences to acquire prosocial skills which will serve for a lifetime.

The little ones often experience more socialization in the virtual and social networks, which are spaces in which everyone can come into contact with the child, who does not yet have the skills to orient themselves in social relationships and to understand if a relationship is supportive or dangerous. 

In social media an incredible chaos is created e the smaller you are, the more vulnerable you are to all the risks involved». 

Read also: Clubhouse explained to parents

Social media and sexuality, what happens?

"Between the ages of 11 and 14, one of the areas in which children make more trouble and get involved in more risky behaviors is that of sexuality. It is a very delicate area, which responds very precisely to the principles of the specific phase, that is, it cannot be accelerated, but it must be approached with educational interventions tailored to the ability of the girl or boy to be able to elaborate the indications and suggestions, thus being able to integrate them. 

It is a very delicate job and should be done by educational agencies, but unfortunately school and family often propose an educational desert around it. And children and teenagers shift their search for information and excitement to online territory.

And it is precisely the combination of an absent adult world and a hypersexualized online world which makes growth risky. The abuse of pornography by many male adolescents, the use of seductiveness, sexting, self-exposure that many girls do, etc .: all this produces many risks ", specifies prof. Pellai.

Read also: Teens and social networks: a handbook for parents

Misuse of technology, the causes

The causes of the excessive use of social media are two according to prof. Pellai. «On the one hand there is hyper-accessibility: there are no gates that must be crossed. Everything is open, there are no educational supervision, there is no monitoring of the user, of the user. The Internet is a hyper-accessible space, a kind of toyland where you don't even have to walk down a path to get there. 

On the other hand, the nature of mental functioning between 9/10 and 13/14 years is vulnerable, attracted by the hyperstimulating and hyperexcitatory modality, by the modality in which gratification is immediate and reachable through a few clicks. There is a great offer as well the brain of the very young has a great hunger for stimulation: this is an explosive mixture which increasingly displaces the experiences of growth and which also triggers mechanisms associated with addiction processes ».

Read also: How to manage children's boredom

Advice for parents, how to behave

According to Professor Pellai, parents must have a clear plan with respect to the online life of their children. It cannot be improvised and impromptu, nor follow the script of impulsiveness.

  • Therefore it is important to give rules on quantity of online use and quality of use. The younger a child is, the clearer this idea must be in the minds of the parents. The more the child grows, the more this aspect instead enters into a negotiation between parents and children, who, however, having taken advantage of the first phase of training in the good use of the online, will know that they have children in front of them who have frames and know self-regulate. Currently the problem is enormous, because children enter online very early and adults do not offer an educational contract to their children. 
  • If there is a problem and the child is increasingly demotivated with respect to the experiences of reality, using the online more and more, the advice is to cmeet with a specialist of the developmental age, starting with the pediatrician of reference, understanding if what is worrying for us is objectively relevant also for the specialist. 
  • Another aspect is equip yourself, as parents, with many skills, understand that the territory explored by the children must also be well known by the adults. If adults know the risks, then they have strategies for prevention. The book All Too Soon highlights precisely all the areas that the parent must be aware of ». 
Read also: The questions of children that we do not have the courage to answer: the direct

  • online security
  • cyberbullying
  • social networks
  • dangers of the internet
add a comment of Risks of social media for children and adolescents, how to behave
Comment sent successfully! We will review it in the next few hours.