Today’s children have access to so many technologies from mobile phones to social media, online digital games and more. While the Internet can provide children with great educational benefits, it’s also a dangerous place where children can encounter unethical and unscrupulous people, even when they are sitting in the ‘safety’ of your living room.
The dangers of social media
According to Kaspersky Lab data, 66% of children in Johannesburg are mostly interested in Internet communication media – in particular social media. In South Africa as a whole, the number is a high 60%. Social media is not as innocent as it appears to be. One in four children with a profile on a social networking site has experienced something upsetting in the last year. Children can accidentally stumble onto a page with adult content relating to pornography, drugs, violence, suicide and weapons.
When a stranger becomes ‘a friend’
The big danger with social media is that your children can connect with people far more easily than they would be able to in their day-to-day life. Worryingly, these people can be strangers your children have never met before. A research report called South Africa Kids Online showed that 30% of children add people to their social media list whom they have never met in real life. The problem with these ‘friends’ is that you can never be sure if your child is engaging with a peer or a child groomer or attacker.
Added to this, children are unfortunately not discreet. The report showed that 67% of children unwittingly share what school they go to and 54% regularly publish and share their places and locations – making them far easier for a predator to track down.
How to detect whether something is wrong
Parents are often oblivious as to what is going on in their children’s online social groups, which include Twitter, qoohme, snapchat, Instagram and the darker side of Instagram known as Finsta. Here your child could also be subject to mean cyberbullying behaviour from both peers and strangers. To help identify whether something is wrong in your child’s social media life look for:
- Changes in digital behaviour. For example, if your child suddenly becomes secretive about their online behaviour or wakes up at night to go online
- Constant use of their digital devices to connect with online friends who you don’t know about
- Abusive messages or images appearing on your child’s page
- Connecting online with older friends outside your child’s normal age group
- The disappearance of your child’s page on social media
How to protect your child before things go wrong
These are all indicators that your child could be at risk in their social media space. However, as a parent, you can take some active steps to prevent your child from being exposed to dangerous content or people:
- Set parental controls. Software like ESET Parental Control for Android helps you to ensure your children navigate safely online even when they are away from home. You can view what your children see and intervene flexibly to block access. The app explains to your children in a friendly way what they are allowed to view. If your children are away from home, you can check their locations and send them messages that they must acknowledge before they continue using their devices.
- Disable digital location settings. Disable the location settings on your child’s device in order to prevent the device from broadcasting your child’s location and predators from tracking your child’s whereabouts.
- Set up privacy controls. Ensure your child’s social media channels have the highest privacy settings in place, preventing anyone outside their known peer group from contacting or connecting with them.
- Educate your children. Discuss the positive and negative sides of social media with your children. Encourage discussions about their ‘digital tattoos’ – how once something is broadcast on social media, it can never be erased. Explain the dangers of ‘oversharing’ and how it can lead to your child’s content and details falling into the wrong hands.
Lastly, the most important thing parents need to do to protect their children is stay educated themselves. Sharon Knowles from the Da Vinci Foundation encourages parents to become technologically savvy.
“If a child is being groomed or cyberbullied and a parent is unable to use the technology their child is using, the chance of them being able to intervene and protect that child is unlikely. As a parent, it is your responsibility to be technologically proficient with the devices you are placing in your children’s hands”, she said
For more information about how to protect your child while they are using social media contact the davincifoundation.org.za