The widespread use of social network sites (SNSs) by children has significantly reconfigured how they communicate, with whom and with what consequences. This article analyzes cross-national interviews and focus groups to explore the risky opportunities children experience online. It introduces the notion of social media literacy and examines how children learn to interpret and engage with the technological and textual affordances and social dimensions of SNSs in determining what is risky and why. Informed by media literacy research, a social developmental pathway is proposed according to which children are first recipients, then participants, and finally actors in their social media worlds. The findings suggest that SNSs face children (aged approximately 9–11) with the fundamental question of what is real or fake. By around 11–13, they are more absorbed by the question of what is fun, even if it is transgressive or fake. By age 14–16, the increasing complexity of their social and emotional lives, as well as their greater maturity, contributes to a refocusing on what is valuable for them. Their changing orientation to social networking online (and offline) appears to be shaped by their changing peer and parental relations, and has implications for their perceptions of risk of harm.
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