How ethical can children’s use of social media be if they don’t even understand the word ethics?

Social media can be great. However the majority of us were born before any platforms like Snapchat and Twitter, were invented. So how and at what age do we teach children the appropriate and ethical way to behave online? And do adults even understand these ideas  of privacy themselves? (Greenwald, 2014).

This is a question troubling many educators as the age at which children have access to the online world is getting younger and younger (Mullen, et al., 2014). More importantly, who is responsible for teaching these ethics in a child friendly, or even relatable way – the teachers or the parents? Fig 1. illustrates the percentage of children between the ages of 8 to 16 year olds who have specific social media accounts, and furthermore 75% of children between the ages of 10 to 12 have these accounts despite being legally to young to sign the terms and conditions (Jamieson, 2016).

An extension of this debate is how school children should interact with their educators on social media sites, and where should the line be drawn to protect children. It is important to note that children are not fully developed to understand the gravity of how something posted online can so easily fall into the wrong hands, and social media furthers this idea by removing the barriers between a public and private self (Daily Mail, 2014). As well as this it’s been recorded that active social networkers show a greater tolerance for activities online which offline would be considered unethical (Luby, 2012) – a notion which could be applicable to both children and their teachers.

Social Media Percentage Usage of 8 - 16 year olds

Fig 1. Graphic created by Rachel Whalley using Canva, data from (Daily Mail, 2014)


This idea is especially poignant today considering a teacher was recently charged with 931 child sex offences after impersonating Justin Bieber to corrupt child fans into sending him naked images (Hodge, 2017). Although based in Australia the charged has victims all over the world, including 20 within the UK, reflecting how dangerous global social networks are and the naivety of children – if someone says they are one person why would they lie? Adults may recognise this as cat-fishing, but how do educators explain such a concept to trusting, and innocent children? To be brutally honest it’s very difficult- do your best, protect your own privacy and hope that your safe attitude encourages your children, or the ones your teach, to do the same.

With this in mind here is a little handy guide I made to help educators remain on the right and ethical line of using social media to influence children to be mindful and safe online:

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 18.04.33

Graphic created by Rachel Whalley using Canva

Word count: 407 words

Reference list:

Daily Mail, (2014). More than half of children use social media by the age of 10: Facebook is the most popular site that youngsters join. Accessed 24.03.17

Greenwald, G. (2014). Why privacy matters. Accessed 24.03.17

Hodge, M. (2017) Justin Bieber imposter charged with 931 child sex offences after ‘duping kids, including 20 from the UK, into sending naked pics’. Accessed 24.03.17

Jamieson, S. (2016). Children ignore age limits by opening social media accounts. Accessed 24.03.17

Luby, S. (2017). Ethics and Social Media: Where should you draw the line? Accessed 23.03.17

Mullen, R., Griffith, C., Greene, J. & Lambie, G. (2014). Social Media and Professional School Counselors: Ethical and Legal Considerations. University of Central Florida. Accessed 23.03.17


18 thoughts on “How ethical can children’s use of social media be if they don’t even understand the word ethics?

  1. sharonbuergin says:

    Hi Rachel,

    Thank you for a refreshing read! Relating ethics to children surfing on the internet was a topic that I have not even considered. The article that you have shared of the “FAKE BIEBER RAP” left me in shock. Furthermore, having read that children log onto social media accounts despite not having the legal age got me thinking. I decided to do some research on how I could potentially protect my children and found this web link:

    Qustodio is one of many software’s that allows parents to control their children’s online activity by “enabling you to set rules and time schedules, block pornography and other unsuitable content”. Other software’s such as OpenDNS Family Shield and Kidlogger have similar safety precautions.

    However, do you believe it would be appropriate to install such a software? And when would you stop? Overly-controlling parents might harm their relationship to their child?

    Where do you stand?

    Sharon Bürgin
    155 words


    • Rachel says:

      Hi Sharon!

      Thanks for your thought-provoking comments – I hadn’t fully considered what I would do to prevent my own children from accessing this!

      I think it’s such a personal issue, I think it depends completely on the child and their personality. For me I think I would probably install a piece of software such as Qustodio but would also be aware that children are so tech savy these days that they could probably work out how to disable them if they really wished to. I think there is also a risk like you say of becoming overly-controlling so it is difficult to know where to draw the line! What would you do?

      Thanks! Rachel

      Liked by 1 person

      • sharonbuergin says:

        Hey Rachel,

        I would probably wish to install a software on my computer to prevent my children surfing freely on the web. Moreover, I strongly believe that it is important to be honest and inform them of the various reasons why it was set in the first place. My experience with my little sister has shown me that this is the best way forward. I would try to attempt and maintain a healthy balance.

        Thanks you,


      • Rachel says:

        Hi Sharon,
        Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this! It’s interesting to see and I agree I think a healthy balance is the best way forward.
        Thanks, Rachel


  2. eloanerochasemedo says:

    Hi Rachel!

    Great topic! I believe the use of social media by children is definitely a topic that should have more awareness raised upon and you did well by including a great deal of statistics.

    75% of children illegally using social media honestly did not come as a surprise for me; I remember setting up accounts using a fake DOB when I was younger, do you? Children’s use/interest in social media is almost unstoppable with it being such a strong social trend and the fact that children are exposed to devices (e.g. ipads) which sometimes already have social media apps installed facilitates their use even more.

    On my post I mentioned the importance of digital literacy and I strongly believe it’s something schools should take time to educate children on from a young age because their use of social media is uncontrollable but the negative impacts (e.g. cyberbullying and sexual assault) aren’t, do you agree?

    My post:

    Ellie xo



    • Rachel says:

      Hi Ellie,

      Thanks for reading and for your interesting comments! I’m the same as you, it used to be you had to 13 to sign up for most things but when I was 11/12 everyone had them anyway!

      Digital literacy is such an interesting topic, I just had a look at your blog post – 118 mins on social media a day how scary! I agree with you, I think that schools should have better education surrounding social media because it’s such a key part of our lives now. I definitely think that through education cyberbullying and other negative impacts could be reduced, but how would you see this being done? Possibly through a social media class or do you think that is too extreme?

      Thanks again! Rachel

      Liked by 1 person

      • eloanerochasemedo says:

        Hi Rachel!
        I agree, I still remember creating fake DOB’s for social media accounts when I was 12.
        I believe topics like cyberbullying should be introduced in education by having focus groups every now and then with students , get them to talk about their feelings towards and that will allow teachers to spot if their are any students going through a hard time online , do you agree? Thanks for you’re reply!


      • Rachel says:

        Hi Ellie!
        Yes I agree with you! I think it’s such a difficult topic to get children to engage and interact with but focus groups definitely seem like a good way forward!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. harrietpigott2 says:

    Hi Rachel, thank you for sharing such though provoking ideas. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog and has subsequently sparked a number of questions…

    I note your question about who should be responsible for the educating of children around social media, and in response I believe as outlined by Nick Gibb in 2015, it is the responsibility of the education system to educate and shape a child’s future thus ensuring they are well informed citizens (Department for Education, 2015). Having said this, I feel parents also have a duty of care to re inforce the morals and principles instilled within schools, as Bernard Arons states within this article However, not all parents agree with this idea, as outlined in this article.

    I’m really interested to hear your views on this, and look forward to hearing your thoughts.


    Department for Education (2015) The Purpose of Education. Available at: (Accessed: 20 April 2017).


    • Rachel says:

      Hi Harriet,

      Thanks for reading and I’m glad you found it interesting! I think you’ve raised a really topical issue there, parents vs teachers. For me I think it should be both, I think that first article about consistency makes an interesting argument stating “Children need people and rules that they can depend on.” I think in this way the parents need to set the boundaries of how they are expected to behave online so that children are always aware of where the line is. On the other hand, as mentioned in that second article, knowing the full story about the damage social media can do to a normal everyday person is an education in itself, something that should be presented through schools.

      Its difficult as I think parenting is very in the moment and adaptable, where as schools are bounded by curriculums that have to be submitted way in advance. What are your personal thoughts on this?

      Thanks! Rachel


  4. ed baker (@uosmed) says:

    Hey Rachel, thanks for the great post!

    I thought you chose a really interesting topic for this week! It was something I had not really considered in the past to be honest!

    I was wondering who you personally thought should be responsible for teaching children online behaviour and ethics? Their parents or the teachers? Personally my parents were the ones who truly introduced me to the online world and taught me valuable lessons about behaviour and what to be careful of, however I can understand why the responsibility should fall on the teachers.

    Your infographics were also very useful at summarising the information you provided in the article, I especially like the use of bold colours to really grab the reader’s attention.
    Thanks for the article


    • Rachel says:

      Hi Ed!

      Thanks for the comment, I’m glad you enjoy my blog! I think that’s a really interesting debate especially now as kids are online from such a young age. For me I think it should be both, as children start using the internet before they go to school now yet a lot of the more dangerous stuff, such as cyberbullying, happens within schools. So I think that teachers should use their influence to encourage and help kids recognise the right behaviour online, helping to recognise those who are struggling. I notice that you draw upon on your own experience, do you think this is different for children growing up now?



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