Why this expert says parents need to protect kids from social media

Paul Davis has spent the week advising parents, teachers and children about how to browse online safely — and he's shared some of those tips with CBC Radio's All in a Day.

Paul Davis has spent the week advising Ottawa schools about safe browsing

Paul Davis says parents need to take control of their children's social media usage. (Twitter)

For nearly three decades, Paul Davis advised executives on a variety of information technology issues.

More recently, however, he's taken to showing schools the potential dangers of social networking. 

"If you talk to most IT-cyber professionals, they don't have many of these challenges at home because they actually understand the complexities of technology," Davis told CBC Radio's All in a Day on Friday.

I'm a believer that when a child is on a screen, they should be in the vicinity of a parent.- Paul Davis

The Toronto-based Davis — who's spent the past week presenting to students, parents and teachers in Ottawa — said one of the biggest dangers is non-tech-savvy parents underestimating what their children will be exposed to in the worlds of online gaming, social media and YouTube.  

Those same parents need to take control so that their children don't get victimized or bullied online, he added. 

"I'm a believer that when a child is on a screen, they should be in the vicinity of a parent ... We don't isolate a child and technology, especially when it's connected to the internet," said Davis.

"For all the individuals who believe that a 10 [or] 11-year-old should be on these social media platforms, they really are in absolute denial."  

As Davis notes, if parents can't always avoid racist, sexist and graphic content, it doesn't make sense to expect children will.

Facebook under fire

Much of the consternation over social networking safety stems from recent revelations of how companies like Facebook failed to protect users from data breaches, election meddling and other issues.

Throughout a five-hour hearing this week, U.S. senators from both sides of the aisle grilled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

In his opening remarks Tuesday, Zuckerberg said Facebook didn't do enough to prevent its tools from being used for harm — citing fake news, interference in foreign elections, hate speech and data privacy.

But he rejected the suggestion his company was "wilfully blind" and said he has made major changes to the service to seek out fake accounts and to better protect users' privacy.

'Go outside'

Davis told All in a Day that he's from a generation where parents had to chase kids down to come inside — and it's imperative that this generation's parents also make sure their kids get out of the house and have an active childhood.
"When you're done that screen time, can you please be a kid? It is the greatest time of your life," Davis said.

"Go outside. Play with your friends. Interact with each other. Build human relationships."

Here are some of Davis's other suggestions for using screens safely and responsibly:

  • Don't allow technology at the dinner table.
  • Enrol children in sports or other activities. 
  • Don't give them a social media account before they're 13.
  • Privatize those accounts.
  • Don't over-post.
  • Make sure social media connections are humans you have an established relationship with. 

"If we apply privacy, we apply the security aspect, and we keep it real, social media is awesome. It's great," Davis said.

"But we fall into the traps of no privacy, over-posting, accepting everyone that wants to be our friend or connect with us. That's where we fall into the trap."