By Amreen Pathan
Traditionally, we warn our children about the dangers of the stranger in the streets but the sad reality is that we overlook the stranger in the house. Which stranger in this? The stranger that paradoxically offers companionship and entertainment. The stranger that offers information and opportunities. The stranger that offers solace and solidarity.
The stranger that is social media.
- According to data company Statista, there are 4.2 billion active social media users as of January 2021.
- The most popular social media network as of April 2021 is Facebook.
- In 2025, a total of 50.89 million people have been projected as active users of social media compared to 48.63 million users in 2020.
- 5% of children aged 5-7 years had a social media account in 2018.
- The most popular social media app amongst children in the UK was YouTube in February 2021 of which 75% of 5-15 year olds utilise.
- Half of ten year olds owned smartphones in 2019 according to communication regulator Ofcom. Smartphones provide ease of access to social media platforms, which implies greater social media usage by children.
- The average UK user spends 110 minutes a day on social media.
Three implications of social media
We cannot make a judgement call about restricting our children’s use of social media without understanding its implications. Yes, above I reeled off a list of facts but what does this actually translate to in tangible terms?
- In a parenting workshop hosted by Academica Mentoring, Dr Mahera discusses the constant scrolling that adults are accustomed to. Taking a walk? Not without scrolling! Having dinner? Not without scrolling! Family time? Not without scrolling!
What this means is there a real lack of engagement between parent and child. Valuable moments to discuss the day’s happenings, teachable opportunities, quality time – all of these are wasted because of what we can only term as an addiction to social media. If parents are constantly disengaged, then their children will be too whether this be at home or at school.
- Hands up if you have found yourself scrolling through Instagram only to find your mood quickly transforming into something dark and unsettling. A survey conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health found that Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all led to feelings of anxiety, poor body image and loneliness in 14-24 year olds.
Social media perpetuates lifestyles that are filtered and fantastical and it is easy for any person to get lost in a sea of comparison. This can result in inferiority complexes and discontentment and in Islam; this is dangerous as Aaidh ibn Abdullah Al-Qarnee eloquently expresses: “The fruit of discontentment is disbelief.”
Contentment and discontentment is a vast topic to discuss and I do not wish to dwell on it here but social media will always result in adults and children alike feeling discontent with their lifestyles which in essence means being ungrateful for Allah S’s favours.
- What are our children being exposed to on platforms like YouTube, TikTok and Instagram? Even seemingly, harmless content is ornamented with music and though this may not be society’s idea of decadent, it is according to Islam.
There is a great emphasis in Islam on the company one chooses to keep; so much so that we are also cautioned about the books we choose to read, the podcasts we listen to and even the food we eat because it as though we are sharing the company of these authors and speakers and chefs.
If our children are accessing social media incessantly, be this YouTube or Instagram then essentially we are emboldening them to keep company of strangers whose values and ethics we are ignorant of and only Allah S knows the full impact this has on the heart.
There are so many other implications of social media that cannot be overlooked. Cyber-bullying for example, FOMO (fear of missing out), isolation, self-absorption, materialism, jealousy, showing off and so forth. The list is long and the detriment is real.
Social media however is a phenomenon that is growing and will continue to grow. Its functionality as an educational as well as an encyclopaedic resource cannot be denied either. There is so much scope for learning and growth on social media. Pretending it does not exist and/or banning it completely from one’s home therefore may not be the most practical solution. So what can we do as parents to help our children navigate social media sensibly and consciously?
“We need to help kids make better choices intrinsically,” says Homayoun [a Silicon Valley-based expert on teen behaviour]. “Give them freedom and responsibility, but with bumper lanes.”
Five ways parents can help balance use of social media
(Based on Homayoun’s advice. Her book Social Media Wellness: Helping Tweens and Teens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World is also available to purchase).
- Monitor use of social media. For a younger child, ensure close supervision and only allow children friendly apps and games. For an older child, check their devices (be these personal or shared devices) regularly. Explain to your children your reasoning behind the supervision and help them to understand that it is about their safety in all senses of the word.
- Set clear guidelines. This might mean things like asking for permission before downloading apps, allowing a certain portion of the day where social media can be accessed but also checking in phones before bedtime and so forth.
- Digital detox. Get your children accustomed to technology or social media free periods in the week. Of course this means adults having to detox too because as the saying goes, practice what you preach! You may find as a family that being ‘offline’ is actually a massive relief!
- Help kids understand ‘why’. Encourage children to reflect on their use of social media. Why am I using this app? How did this video make me feel? Why am I posting this? This will result in reflective and active citizenship on the internet and encourage children to differentiate between reality and the ‘virtual’.
- Be app savvy. Understand the social media that your children are using. If there are any problems that crop up on-line, you will be better versed at dealing with the crisis if you know exactly what the app entails.
My better half and I are not parents yet but have already started discussing how exactly we would manage social media use in our own home once we are blessed with children in sha’ Allah. Each time, we are drawn to the same solution: get rid of all smartphones and tablets and resort to using traditional mobile phones. The solution may seem extreme but the fear of social media in our home is real. Who knows if this is what we truly will resort to but I’m putting the intention out into the universe for someone to hold us accountable!
What do you do to manage your child/children’s social media use? Leave your comments below.