Let’s be honest, most of us today are hooked to the Internet in some way or the other! From using smartphones to check emails to the iPad for Candy Crush, the digital world has attracted all age groups, starting from one-year-olds to ninety year old. However, the most influenced section of society are children, tweens and teenagers. They’ve literally grown up with the technology and are at an age where it influences a lot of their decision making. With the negative effects of the digital world spoken about so often, the concept of a ‘digital detox’ is fast growing. Just like any other detoxification regime, here too a person chooses to refrain from using digital technologies either on a chosen day of the week or for a few hours every day. With teenagers spending an alarming amount of time online, it is worth considering introducing the concept for them as well. And as they say, it’s better to catch ‘em young!
Step one: Introduce a set of healthy activities
Walking, going for a jog, riding a bike or taking up a sport. Any of these activities are a great place to get your child interested in the real physical world around him or her. You can also enrol them in a hobby class like art, writing or anything that suits their fancy and doesn’t involve digital interactions. This would be a great way to keep them away from digital devices, without having to force instructions upon them.
Step two: Set timings
Set timings for when a child can watch television or use the Internet. Starting early is great as your child will quickly adapt to the rules and find creative uses of time that would have otherwise gone online. Say no to using gadgets late at night.
Step three: No device at the table
Meal times are a great time for families to bond. So if your child has his/her phone or device while eating food, create a rule that stops him/her from having it there. This will also allow them to enjoy the food they eat.You can also extend this rule to no device in the bedroom.
Step four: Get social in real life
If you’ve only limited social interactions to social media, get out and have a real fun time with friends. Involve children in these real get togethers, so that they learn the art of interacting with people in real life. When your child is catching up with friends, encourage them not to play online games together or surf YouTube but instead, have a range of other activities ready for them to engage with.
Step five: Be a good role model
Children do as they see. So be a good role model and give your child complete undivided attention when they ask for it. Do not get distracted by buzzing phones at the dinner table or while watching a family movie, and yes, maybe you’d even like to try the digital detox yourself!
Facebook likes matter
She’s gone to the most-happening party with her friends. She looks pretty and loves it. She takes a selfie and using the smartphone instantly uploads it to her Facebook page. And a few seconds later, she checks that page. Zero likes. A couple of minutes later, she still finds no likes for her picture. Fifteen minutes have passed, and when she still finds no ‘likes’ on that picture, she’s really worried. Is the red dress really suiting her? Maybe it’s her hair? Maybe she shouldn’t have come at all? As the self-doubt creeps in and she thinks of leaving this uncool party, the first few ‘likes’ trickle in. She smiles and tucks her phone back in the bag. She’ll check it after ten minutes…again.
This is a typical slice from the life of today’s teenager. Overly concerned with their physical outer appearance, their body weight, their clothes and their looks…social media (and let’s be honest, just the media in general!)play a significant role in this, as teenagers now seek ‘social acceptance’ through it. Most teenagers, especially girls, seek hundreds and thousands of ‘likes’ or ‘followers’ and if they don’t receive them, it affects their self-worth. Here’s what parents should know about this trend:
Fact1: ‘Likes’ affect the brain
Studies by the UCLA Brain Mapping Center showed that teenagers’ brains respond to ‘likes’ the same way they respond to seeing a loved one or winning money. These ‘likes’ activate reward centers in the brain, a process that is extremely active during teenage years. The study also indicated that these centers are activated further when the likes are accorded to personal pictures of the subjects. Another interesting point that came up in the study was that when shown neutral pictures, teenagers liked pictures that had more likes, irrespective of the image – meaning that peer influence ranked high in this age group’s usage.
What parents should do: Understanding the science behind what is occurring helps you understand just how significant these ‘likes’ are to your child! It may seem crazy to you, but to them it means something. The first thing you should do is understand the importance your child is placing on peer acceptance and social media interactions. From there, have an open discussion with your child about real world friends vs. online friends. The earlier you can have this conversation, the better placed you will be to help your child maintain perspective over likes and followers.
Fact 2: Loss of important social skills
A survey by Common Sense Media showed that teens spend approximately nine hours on social media everyday! This translates to nine hours of showcasing their presence online, liking, following and commenting. With so much time spent online with people they do not know or who aren’t present in their vicinity, this generation is losing out on real life interactions and experiences. In fact, they are missing out on critical social skills and risk-taking that is required while making friends in the real world.
What parents should do: Restrict timings on using smart devices and set zones where they should not be used. This can be done through the form of a social media family contract, or using filtering apps such as Family Zone.
Fact 3: Mood disorders
With risks of anxiety and depression high for both teenage boys and girls, risks are higher when it comes to the latter. Given the potent world of the online, girls are becoming increasingly conscious of the posts and the feedback they get. When things get murky, this can lead to heightened anxiety and mood swings, making them prone targets of cyberbullying as well.
What parents should do: When you see symptoms like disinterest in academics, anxiety while on social media or shifts in usual behaviour patterns, it is time to have a conversation with your teenager. Ask them if there is something – or someone – bothering them. Ask to see their social media profiles, and remind them that they are a valued and loved member of your family.
The way the younger generation communicates is constantly changing, and as parents you need to be aware of, and understand these changes.The way they experience social inclusion and acceptance now takes the form of likes, pokes, swipe rights and followers – however, it is important that as parents, you take the time to discuss the risks of placing all one’s happiness on virtual interactions and remind them that the real world is full of friendship as well!
By now, you have probably heard the disgusting story regarding an online Facebook group pornography ring established by school boys in Australia. It came to light that sexual images of students from over 70 schools in Australia had been put up on the site. These teenage boy members would nominate a high school or a region in the vicinity and state that they wanted nude images of girls from. In fact, participants would go further to give full names of the girls they specifically wanted images of. But it didn’t stop there! These students would also put out wanted lists and offer wins and bounties to those who could provide information about people on the list. This information would range from their addresses, to phone numbers, hangout places and other details.
Having been operational since last December, the site was finally brought to the attention of the Australian Federal Police in August 2016. It verified that the images were of underage women. When the victims were told about it, many had no idea their photos were on the group, while some had posted their pictures on the site themselves. It also came to light that people had requested their pictures or those of their friends to be removed, but had only faced more bullying on that platform.
So, where does this leave us?
There are many facets to this story and so many thoughts running through my mind when I heard it – What is the world coming to? What does this say about male culture in Australia that these boys think this type of behaviour is acceptable? What impact will this have on the victims? Is anyone safe any more from the wrath of a public internet? Are the future generation losing basic empathy?
While it is not uncommon for boys of that age to be curious about the body of the fairer sex, this incident reaks of personal attacks and vendettas. These boys wanted specific girls’ photos, they wanted to humliate girls they knew or knew about. It wasn’t so much about seeing naked photos as it was about targeting real people and humiliating them. And somehow, it is the girls who are left humiliated, and not the boys who have participated in this disgustingly immature and dangerous behaviour?
Anyway, that sexual double standard debate can be left for another time. What I would like to focus on here are some solutions that parents of teenage girls, and the girls themselves, can adopt to minimise the chances of this ever occurring to them:
No Sexting: Yes, this sounds pretty obvious but it is the easiest way to prevent naked photos of yourself ending up online. It all comes down to trust. Your daughter’s boyfriend may seem like the most wonderful, trustworthy human on the planet to her – but that’s not to say he won’t cave to peer pressure and share those intimate photos she gave him in good faith. Kids are always going to be kids, but the important thing to stress to your daughter is that naked photos (or even suggestive photos) must never be shared in any form – not SnapChat (it can be screenshotted!), not over Skype (there could be a screen recording happening at the other end!) and not any other site or app.
The right circle: Who you will be 10 years from now can be influenced by the type of company you keep today. To your best ability, encourage your daugther to mix with the right crowd. Ensure they are the type of children who have empathy, who care about people and the world around them. This can impact on the decisions she may make when given choices about sexting and other risky behaviour.
Communicate: Talk to your kid about the risks of sexting – perhaps even show them the news article that we are reflecting on. Explain to your daughter how digital images can be screenshotted, recorded, downloaded, saved, shared, forwarded, uploaded etc. If a photo of them is on another person’s phone it is out of their control. Even if they have a completely gentleman-like, trustworthy boyfriend, that’s not to say that he hasn’t shared with phone password with a friend who may choose to rummage through his phone and come across the photos! Teenagers need to understand there is absolutely no 100% safe way to sex in this digital age. It may also be worth mentioning that underage sexting is illegal in Australia – and both the recipient (the boyfriend) and the creator (your daughter!) could be up for child pornography charges.
Consider apps: Depending on the age of your daughter, and your level of concern about such risks you may like to consider implementing filtering and monitoring software. There are thousands of these available on the market, which allow parents to exercise some level of control over what apps and sites your child can access. I am proud to be a Cyber Expert working alongside one such platform, Family Zone.
These measures by no means guarantee your daughter won’t get caught up in something like what we’ve just seen in the news, but with education, communication and greater understanding of the nature of digital sharing hopefully we can reduce the impact sexting can have on teenager’s lives.
Further to this, let’s hope that measures can also be taken to educate boys about how this behaviour is not socially acceptable. The invasion of privacy and malicious nature of this incident highlights the need to be addressing the perpetrators of these attacks as much as those who have ended up as victims. But that’s for another blog post!
Family Using Laptop At Home
The music streaming service of Spotify has captured many an imagination. Requiring users to set up their account on the site using either their Gmail id or their Facebook accounts, Spotify offers free, unlimited and premium plans, and is a great source of music for music-lovers. What’s more, it’s quite the rage with the youngsters as well, who seem to spend plenty of their online time on this app. In fact, I’m yet to meet a teenager who hasn’t downloaded Spotify! While one would say that music is always better than watching videos with explicit content, chatting or messaging, Spotify isn’t all-good as it seems. While parents need not worry too much about this app, there are some things that are still a cause of concern:
Access to explicit content
Unlike what many parents are led to believe, kids on Spotify access explicit content all the time. This may not be because they’re out there looking for such content, but because it comes up when they are searching for something else. Kids are thus at the risk of accessing inappropriate content as song selections cannot be filtered for language or the kind of content they have. In fact, violent cover images on album covers or age-inappropriate language in songs can have an impact on impressionable young minds. And yes, along with access to music, there’s also the free streaming of ads. Also parents are unable to block such content on the site.
Though the site specifically states that users should be at least 13 years of age or older and require parental consent; this doesn’t happen all the time. It is as easy to get on to Spotify as it is to start a Facebook or Gmail account.
Children have a wide range of music to choose from via this app. Not only that, they also have the choice to follow friends, create and share playlists, and also put together favourite songs. With so many options, and an active community on board this app, it surely takes up plenty of time and can get really addictive. In fact, many kids are so caught up with the app that it eats into their study time.
While the app is a good choice, offering free access to music, it has its negative side as well. Parents thus need to be aware of the content their child is accessing via the app. Parents also need to set time limits on usage, so that it doesn’t distract children from studies.
As the Internet becomes more accessible to a wide range of people, the number of online dangers is rising. A scary new trend now emerging is the way kids as young as ten years are being bullied. These attacks happen not on via the bullies’ own accounts, but through fake profiles that are created in the name of the victim which is then used to post embarrassing images or say untrue things about other people. Identity theft bullying is the new terror on the block and helplines are receiving many complaints about it. Some children even called in saying they were self-harming themselves over these incidences, and few had even contemplated ending their lives.
But as the bullies get tough, it is time to get tougher. Kids need to be taught how to handle such situation, and parents serve as the primary educator. Here is some advice on what parents should teach kids facing such a situation:
Understand that this action is intolerable and that they’re at no fault
Children need to understand that such identity theft is not a funny game, but an intolerable offence and something that they should never condone. They should also understand that it isn’t their fault. With the consent of parents, the kid should draft a message conveying that this is their ‘only’ real account (remember how companies do this) and say that they’re not to believe anything else.
Tell their parents/ teacher/ trusted adult about it
Children need to have the confidence to be able to tell their parents or teachers about the identity theft. And parents are encouraged to not react negatively to the inappropriate content that may be present on the account. Remember, it is not your child who has posted these things, nor is it there fault. Unless and until families encourage such open dialogue, it is difficult to control such situations. In fact, parents should start conversations about cybersafety early on, before such incidents happen, so that children are more aware about the issues that may rise. Children are terrified that parents might take away their internet privileges if something bad were to happen, and so this is the main reason they don’t confide in you when issues arise. Be sure to advise your child that removing the internet is not your intention, but rather it is to keep them safe!
Change the passwords and privacy settings
Today many kids, especially girls, tend to share their passwords to “prove their friendship” with others. However such actions can lead to passwords being leaked and it would be difficult to pinpoint who would be using them – or rather misusing them. Kids should also change their passwords and secure their accounts so that their publicly shared pictures can no longer be viewed by the world, as this can open them up to being misused. Parents should teach their children that password sharing is not a sign of friendship and can become dangerous if the friendship turns sour.
Finally, kids should take screenshots of the account in question and share it with the relevant social media site to report the incident. This action will help the media to suspend the account. Today, with the increase in cases of cyberbullying, social media sites are taking stronger measures and prompt action to stop such bullying.
Last month, I fortunate to be able to chat with the team at MomSecure. Concerned about the risks children face when accessing the internet, the MomSecure team have developed an app to aid parents by filtering and blocking unwanted sites and media from their child’s devices. They provided some insight into what they felt the biggest risks facing parents in the 21st century were…
What do you think is the biggest cyber safety risks for children at the moment?
We believe the lack of due diligence that parents may have, due to many reasons. This could be lack of time, knowledge and sadly in some cases, false sense of security (“this would never happen in our family syndrome”). In this era of technology and smart devices, the Internet can be used as a wonderful resource for kids to help them learn and interact with others, but with benefit there are also risks.
Some specific risks we believe we must be most mindful of are:
- Sexual Predators – While sexual predators have targeted children in chat rooms, they migrate to wherever young people go online. More predators are now scouring social networking sites on a day to day basis.
- Inappropriate Material Exposure- This may be material that is pornographic, hateful or violent in nature; that encourages activities that are dangerous or illegal; or that is just age-inappropriate or biased.
What is MomSecure, and why was it developed?
MomSecure was created as a tool for parents to police the enrolled devices 24X7. Making sure that children are shield from content that otherwise they could access but shouldn’t. Momsecure is a premium service for online safety. It is a service that we enable on your Kid’s tablet or phone to restrict access and exposure specific content. MomSecure provides a unique level of customisation and protection with the help of our certified professionals that utilise industry approved ratings of apps, games and content.
The MomSecure service is designed to create a unique and safe environment for children so that they can use technology safely and to educate parents on emerging vulnerabilities of online exposure so that they can proactively protect their kids.
Technology is changing every moment and our service is committed to the task of protecting our children’s innocence 24X7
What is your number one advice to parents?
When it comes to Internet safety, there’s no substitute for parental supervision. The best safeguard against online dangers is being informed. You don’t have to be an expert to have a handle on your child’s online world. MomSecure services can safeguard your children’s device with the help of our certified security agents who will put the appropriate safeguards and restrictions in place to protect your children.
The digital age doesn’t have to be dangerous or overwhelming. Protect every aspect of your children’s digital life with MomSecure.
Thanks, MomSecure for taking the time to share your insights. You can find out more about the MomSecure app here – https://momsecure.com/