Pretty much all of us lie to some extent on social media. Perhaps not outright, but at the very least we tend to present a version of ourselves that may not be a true and accurate reflection of our lives or our bodies.
Have you ever directly lied though when asked questions about yourself, about your age, location, appearance or gender?
In a recent study by ExpressVPN of 4-13 year olds in the UK and US, 24% admitted to lying about their age on social media. When you think that a lot of social media sites require users to be 13, this actually feels like a very low amount. ExpressVPN’s survey also found that 16% of 4-13 year olds say they lie about where they live, 16% lie about their appearance and 9% lie about their gender.
It feels to me like there’s a lot to unpack here, aside from even asking why there are so many young children on social media in the first place? (The survey shockingly found that 4 year olds were spending an average of 21 minutes a day on social media sites, which I found crazy.)
The first implication of the findings is that young children using social media sites don’t feel safe. They lie in order to protect themselves because they understand the dangers of revealing details about yourself online. You might argue that this is a good thing, but my instinct is that surely we have to question allowing our children into these environments in the first place without something in place to make sure they don’t feel like they have lie?
The other thing that sits uncomfortably with me is the idea of promoting lying as a healthy form of self-protection. Whilst of course we want our children to be safe online, surely we want them to do this through the use of age appropriate sites and technology, not by encouraging them to be someone they’re not. Can you imagine sending your 15 year old daughter off to a nightclub and saying ‘don’t worry darling, just tell them you’re 18.’ Of course we wouldn’t.
To me, this lying online feels similar. What are we teaching children about how to form relationships if those relationships, virtual though they may be, are based on a lie? How confusing must it be for children to be told on the one hand to be themselves, to be honest and open and authentic, and then on the other hand to be told to lie about fundamental details about themselves?
I don’t know what the solution is, but I know that it’s not a simple one. Instinctively I keep coming back to the idea of what constitutes a safe space for children offline, and how we recreate that online. We take young children to soft play and let them roam free because we know that it’s safe, that there are other children their own age, and that precautions have already been taken to make it a welcoming space.
Surely we can do the same for our children online while they’re so young?