It was announced this week that 4-year-old children would be getting lessons in the ‘perils’ of social media. As a digital agency, social media runs through our veins, we think it’s a great thing. However, the pros and cons of it being taught in schools aren’t lost on us...

Damian Hinds, Secretary of State for Education in the UK, has spoken out on his belief that educating young people on the dangerous elements of social media is key to protecting them from situations they might encounter online. In an article in the Daily Telegraph, he has announced plans for consultations on a new draft for educating 4 to 11-year-old children in sex and relationships.

This new method of education will focus particularly on updating the current curriculum, following concerns that what children are currently being taught is out of date and failing to teach lessons surrounding modern issues like cyberbullying and sexting. Sounds a little rough for primary school children, but it is certainly topical in today’s hyper-digital world. He said:

“Many of today's problems didn't exist when we last gave schools guidance on how to teach relationships and sex education 18 years ago. It's high time we updated these subjects, which are so important in helping young people become happy, well-rounded and better able to deal with the challenges of the modern world.”

Alongside the updates in the curriculum, future lesson plans will also include guidelines and principles for kids to keep themselves safe online, as well as advice and learning points centred around the reasons that video games are age restricted. Hopefully enabling them to spot and avoid potential risks and over-age content and situations. Hinds continued:

4 year old on computer learning about social media

“One of the most important ways of protecting children is to educate them so they can learn to recognise potential dangers for themselves.”

“As a society, we can't switch off the internet and nor would we want to. But we must make sure that everyone, especially children, can navigate the virtual world, as well as knowing when it's time to step away and make the most of the real one."

These lessons sound like they will be beneficial and educational for young people, people who are likely to take up digital roles in the future, however, could there be too much of a focus on the negative aspects of social media, and less on the positives?

In an article in the Telegraph, Hinds said:

“Today children have to learn to cope in two worlds: the virtual one and the real one – and this is giving old problems a dangerous new edge.”

“Social media brings other issues into sharp relief - body image and the battering self-confidence can take in the age of the selfie; the relentless pressure to compare and share among peer groups; the vulnerability of the young to predators in chat rooms; and the addictive and often graphic violence on games.”

Should 4-year-old children be learning about social media?

It is clear that social media does bring some negative elements into the lives of children and adults alike, in fact in 2017 young people aged between 14 and 24 took a poll to pick the most damaging social media, and Instagram came out on top. We assume this was due to its unrealistic body ideals and the picture perfect moments of people's’ lives, making it seem yours pales in comparison. However, the positive elements of social media also need to be explored by children too. It has many uses, as a way to connect both with people and the world as a whole, from keeping up with your friends and family on Facebook to sharing something you’re passionate about on Instagram.

Looking more granularly at Instagram, the main point to make is that people can literally make a living as an influencer on this platform. What was once a place for only the elite, though beautiful, model-like individuals still make up a good portion of influencers, has now opened up to include a variety of different people from all walks of life. A macro influencer could earn thousands for one sponsored post alone, not bad for a few minutes work! It may not be the most stable of careers, but with hard work and a talented marketer, it’s a career nonetheless. This is a great platform for brands, big and small. 60% of people admit to learning about or researching brands on Instagram before purchasing from them and the app has a far more engaged audience when compared to other social channels, making it a great place to nurture a start-up business. It also has great security options, making it possible for people to be unable to see any of the content on your page when you make it private, meaning people have to request to follow you, reducing the number of strangers following your social content.

Instagram was bought over by Facebook, so there are some similarities in the way the platform is run. Facebook is the most popular social media on the go at the moment, even though this year it has gone through some scandals. Individuals and businesses alike make the most of Facebook’s extensive features, with 95% of charities on the platform, they are now able to take their fundraising efforts social with Facebook’s ‘Fundraising Tools’. 43% of millennials are most inspired to donate because of social media and this allows charities to raise money straight from news feeds with the ability to collect donations on pages, ads and posts. Facebook is also a great way to continue friendships and relationships long distance or even on a busy schedule, with the ability to share life moments, your presence at events and even messages with one another, it certainly the most comprehensive social media for maintaining your knowledge and involvement in your Facebook friends’ lives. There’s no denying or debate that it’s a great way to keep up with your nearest and dearest, as well as that couple you met on holiday once back in 2013. In fact, around 83% of parents are actually friends with their children on Facebook, who could turn down a friend request from their mum?! So, while of course, we don’t condone spying, this is a good way to keep abreast of any social media activity.

should 4 year old kids be learning about social media?

54% of people use social media, Twitter specifically, as a way to access news due to its fast-paced format. Twitter is an ideal platform for movement with hashtags and political moments like #MeToo gaining traction here (although it was previously born on MySpace through activist Tamara Burke) and then resulting in many being brought to justice or identified for their crimes. The usability of hashtags on this platform inspire conversation and debate, allowing users to get information from all sides of arguments, with localised hashtags (for example, hashtags from events or for particular moments in time like #IWD2018, #MetGala or even #BringYourDogToWorkDay), it gives people the opportunity to network, strike up friendships and connect with like-minded people globally. Twitter moments were also introduced in 2015, allowing people to easily access the top stories of that day. Much like Instagram, this is a platform of discovery, of movement and of information. Overall, it’s a great way to keep up with what’s happening in the world and to reach out to people you may never cross paths with otherwise.

Youtube has faced some backlash this year, with seemingly random algorithm changes and especially when stories started mounting of children being shown video content that was unsuitable in the YouTube Kids Platform. People were understandably furious, but with some nifty control work from parents, they are now able to curate content for their child and disable the ability for them to see anything out with that curated bubble of content. You can read more about here. Now, we’re not saying that it’s okay for this slip-up on YouTube’s part to go unchecked, but, YouTube is full of interesting content for children, especially for learning. From learning about science to kids follow-along exercise classes, it can allow parents and children to bond using a modern platform; YouTube does have a good side! It’s also the largest search engine after Google, with many people turning to YouTube for information and facts, reviews and even tutorials on a variety of topics, if you need to know it, it’ll be on the vast YouTube library!

Though we know they’re just little nippers at the moment, LinkedIn brings a whole host of opportunity once they are ready to fly the nest. If you’re a professional, you’re on LinkedIn, 94% of B2B marketers use it as a place to advertise to other businesses and 91% of marketing executives list LinkedIn as a place to find quality content. Not only can you share professional achievements and basically keep an easily updatable online CV, you can also upskill yourself professionally, apply for jobs and connect with other people in your field. It’s a great way to network and you’re likely to find some amazing opportunities, whether that is a new job or that’s a volunteering opportunity to bolster your CV, it’s the ideal place for B2B connections. In fact, we have even had employees who found our job ads through LinkedIn!

Rounding off! 

Overall, every platform will have its own strengths and weaknesses. While we wholeheartedly agree that children should be taught about the dangers that reside on social media, they should be taught about them in a way that compliments the positive elements of social media too. In fact, 11 million people in the UK do not have basic digital skills and this is a job requirement that is becoming an increasing demand in the workplace as more and more businesses adapt to working in a more digital environment. Some years ago, saying that your job involved social media would have had people scoffing, but now it is a genuine professional element to roles based in marketing and communications. This is also something that needs to be considered (if you would like to read our whole article on if schools should be going digital, you can read it here), roles in PR, communications, marketing and social media are careers now and something that children will grow up to pursue.

So, while we don’t have a copy of the lesson plan and we don’t know what kind of replacement curriculum will be drafted up, we do think the good and evils of having an online presence should be a part of it. Children have to grow up with a positive attitude to an online world, however, we do agree that they should be taught to be wary of what can lurk in it when they’re not careful.