Tam Baillie, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People
Two weeks ago I launched my Facebook page as part of a wider strategy by my office to use social media to engage directly with young people.
I believe the Facebook page will help us to provide interesting and easy to access information about rights in general and specific rights linked to particular issues in the news.
It’s also a valuable way to engage with young people about the things that directly affect them.
For example, I’m using it later this week to encourage young people to get involved with my campaign to improve the standards of school toilets in Scotland, by asking them to let me know their experiences, their views and what they think needs to change.
For me therefore, social media can directly improve the core educational function of my office, as well as indirectly supporting my campaigns on issues.
Using social media to engage with children and young people has, in the last two years, become as integral to my work as face to face contact through schools and other visits.
It would no longer be conceivable for me to launch a campaign such as the school toilets campaign, without also engaging through digital channels because the digital world is no longer separate from any other part of the world for most children and young people.
It’s not that they spend some time in the real world and some in a digital world. They spend all their time in the real world, and some parts of it are on YouTube, Facebook, AskFM, Instagram and Twitter.
Digital media channels let children and young people play, learn and socialise in ways that were difficult to imagine – even five years ago.
While tragedies such as the two recent teenage suicides attributed to cyber bullying lead inevitably to intense public debate about protection and safeguards, we must also remember that the way in which children and young people behave in online spaces is complex.
We need to be aware that the ways they behave online are not separated from the ways they behave offline. We need to be wary of simple statements about how they experience the world. So keeping children and young people safe online is not a simple matter.
It’s going to involve education for adults and children, possibly some more regulation if we can find the means to achieve this – and above all clear advice to children and young people from parents and via schools. And effective support when things do begin to go wrong.