Social Media through the Ears of a Primary School Teacher

Social media 
As an upper Key Stage Two primary school teacher, I have occasionally overheard conversations between children about their social media and online communication experiences. The conversations have often been about who they ‘messaged’ the previous evening, or who they had ‘FaceTimed’ with, or about their successes or failures whilst playing online games. The types of social media the children tend to enjoy at primary school age include SMS, Blackberry Messenger, Instagram, FaceTime, SnapChat, MSN, MySpace, Skype, Facebook Messenger and Youtube. By contrast, some schools use safer closed online environments to facilitate discussions and sharing of resources. These sites can only be accessed by the children and staff from that school. Starz+, DB Primary, Mathletics and Sumdog are examples of these ‘educational’ platforms where children can communicate with one another in a safe and monitored environment.

Online gaming and forums
Primary school children are increasingly taking part in online gaming, involving huge numbers of players from all over the world. Some of these games allow players to communicate through headsets (headphones with microphones) during gameplay; others allow players to type messages to each other on a message board. Pokemon Go has appealed massively to 7-11 year-olds. This game requires players to use the camera on their phone to search public places for virtual creatures which appear on the phone’s screen. Young children are also now using forums to discuss their favourite TV shows, video games, music, celebrities and sports.

Age Limits
Occasionally I have overheard a conversation or been proudly informed by primary age children that they have an account on or use somebody else’s account to go on Facebook or Twitter. The terms and conditions of Facebook and Instagram state that users must be 13 years or more to create an account, and Twitter’s privacy policy states ‘our Services are not directed to persons under 13’. The minimum age on LinkedIn is 14, on WhatsApp it’s 16, and on Vine it’s 17. Some platforms, such as YouTube, WeChat and Kik have a minimum age requirement of 18, although kids aged 13-17 can sign-up with a parent’s permission.

With increasing opportunities for children to communicate and share thoughts, feelings, pictures and more online, schools are rushing to prepare, inform and educate children about the risks of social media and online communications. E-safety lessons are mandatory throughout the year with most schools ensuring a lesson is delivered at the beginning of each half term. These lessons teach children what to do if they:
  • - receive offensive messages or emails;
  • - receive an email or message to say they have won a substantial prize;
  • - receive an email or message asking for their personal details;
  • - receive a request to turn on their webcam;
  • - receive a request to meet up with somebody they have only chatted to online;
  • - believe they are being bullied online (cyber-bullying);
  • - come across an offensive or inappropriate website.

The guidance is to always tell an adult immediately and not to reply.

'Digital footprint'
Children are told never to give out personal details, bank details or photos. They are also warned about their ‘digital footprint’. This is the evidence they leave online, such as websites they have visited, photos, videos and messages they have posted. Lessons also include educating children about viruses and making children aware of the reporting buttons and blocking options on many websites. Children are given a list of websites and organisations they can go to if they feel upset or concerned about any aspect of e-Safety. More and more schools are using social media as an educational tool to enhance teaching and learning, as well as using it to broadcast news and information quickly. As children move through their education they may be required, by some schools, to create an account on a social media platform so they can keep up to date with their work and learning. There are many e-Safety apps for smart phones and tablets aimed at keeping children safe online. Additionally, most antivirus software and some broadband providers have parental control features which allow parents to restrict access to any website they feel is unsuitable for their child.

Useful links
The following useful links are provided to help parents in their understanding and management of the children’s use of social media: