Using social media is becoming a normal part of everyday life with nine out of 10 teenagers using social media in the UK.

Social media can help young people stay in touch with friends or provide a place for creative self-expression through art or music. And, for those in foster care, it may make the process less daunting and allow connections with other young people in the fostering community.

However, a survey by The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health group indicates that social media impacts sleep and exercise, with children, in particular girls, being vulnerable to cyber-bullying. With most social networking sites only allowing users aged 13 years and over, as their foster carer, it is important to provide teenagers with guidance on using social media and the internet in general.

Open dialogue

It is likely that a teenager who has recently come into your care already has presence on a range of social media platforms. Whatever your personal view of social media, it is important to discuss what their relationship with social media is.

Ask them what platforms they use, what they use it for, or how long they spend on it to get a feel for what extent it impacts on their life. Also ask how they feel about using it; do they feel it affects their mood, or would they like to reduce time spent on there.

Offer advice

After building trust, take a moment to offer any advice. Take on board anything your foster child has said about their likes and dislikes of using social media.

For example, if they feel social media affects their mood negatively then perhaps suggest time limits which they are in control of.

Or perhaps introduce a house rule where there is no screen time at dinner, which you also abide by, as well as banning phones from bedrooms.

Advice following the report by The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health also highlighted to encourage children to do more physical activity.

Education

Depending on the age of the teenager in your care it may be good to spend some time running through the basic dos and don’ts such as not sharing personal information or friending someone they do not know. Check that they have privacy filters in place.

The extensive resource from UK Safer Internet Centre includes social media guides with information about the safety features available on some of the popular social networks. Some of their tips for being online in general include:

  • Checking the source of information, is it trustworthy
  • Do some research to check facts
  • Checking with friends about information seen online
  • For foster carers and parents, make sure that children in your care know that they can talk to you if they ever become upset about something online

Other resources to help you get up to speed and be able to guide the children in your care include:

Are you ready to be a foster carer?

Being a foster carer is an incredibly rewarding role, but it comes with its challenges, that’s why OwnLife is here to support you every step of the way. We treat those in our fostering community as a professional partner.

If you would like to learn more about becoming a foster carer in a London borough and the training involved get in touch today on 020 8313 3304 or drop us an email at fosteringinfo@ownlife.org.uk.